Life is filled with petty choices to make. Am I watching Netflix or working out tonight? Is that for here or to go? Am I pulling an all-nighter or going to bed? Such miniscule situations are normal for your everyday individual. But not all choices in life are so simple.
Therefore Choose Life, writtenby mother-son duo Kathy Kacer and Jake Epstein and directed by Rachel Slaven, invites the audience to experience that inquiry. Set in a post-World War II setting, the play follows Joseph (Avery Saltzman) in his moral dilemma of choosing between his past, present and future.
Joseph, separated from his first wife Chava (Lisa Horner) during the Holocaust, finds himself in Canada without love or meaning of life. Believing Chava to be dead, he starts a new life with Evelyn (Sheila McCarthy), who resurrects him from his empty shell. In the present day, Joseph and Evelyn approach their 25th anniversary. While their son Sam (Jake Epstein), together with his girlfriend Suzanne (Amelia Sargisson), plans a surprise anniversary party, the universe presents a surprise of its own: Joseph receives an unexpected letter from Chava, who claims to be alive and seeking her lost love for the past 30 years.
The beauty of this play is that it makes you think. Found in Joseph and Sam’s “opposite game,” in which the two switch between “good” and “bad” opposites, their characters explore the conundrum of choosing between the enjoyable choice and the responsible choice. At one point, Joseph asks Sam, “What is the opposite of responsibility?” – a question that drowns the audience in silence.
Aside from the Yiddish jargon and Jewish slapstick humour, the play embraces deep thoughts. Epstein admirably shows the hardships imposed by survivors onto their children, who don’t understand the complexities of the Holocaust. In fact, Saltzman and Epstein excellently demonstrate the difficulties of the two generations seeing eye-to-eye, which inevitably translates into the struggle of making the right choice.
The beauty of Therefore Choose Life is its design simplicity: a simple living room set with a basic full-stage wash, spotlights and, at times, coloured lighting to set the mood. The result produces an astounding compliment to the actors’ powerful performances.
Presented by Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company, Therefore Choose Life runs until May 10 at the Toronto Centre for the Arts.