Emilia Di Luca
The Toronto Fringe Festival has a variety of venues, but none are as unique as The Anshei Minsk Synagogue, tucked away in Kensington Market. In the basement of this beautiful Orthodox synagogue, Amphitheatre delivers an equally beautiful play, Mandelshtam.
Osip Mandelshtam, played by Omar Hady, was a famous Russian poet who was arrested for creating and reciting a poem that attacked Stalin in 1934. After imprisonment and exile, Osip was released, but Stalin made sure he never worked or published as a writer again. The play follows Osip, his wife, Nadia (Nicole Wilson), and their friends, played by Tatjana Cornij and Bruce Beaton, as they faces Stalin’s plan to crush Osip’s poetry.
The venue is a character on its own and actually influences the play greatly. In keeping with the Orthodox tradition, Natacha Aaron, a young girl who introduces the play, tells the audience that the female and male actors will not touch while in the synagogue. However, Mandelshtam doesn't neglect intimacy. Osip and Nadia often simulate holding hands by each taking an end of a handkerchief. Not to mention, the performance space has an air of intimacy.
A stage is formed in the centre of the basement enclosed by a circle of audience members. A simple white sheet hangs from the ceiling. Here, the cast plays with shadow puppets and silhouettes brilliantly.
The perfect venue, a strong performance by the cast and some beautiful stage pictures make Osip’s story come alive at this year’s Toronto Fringe.
Mandelshtam runs until July 12 at the Toronto Fringe Festival. The show takes place at The Anshei Minsk Synagogue. For more information visit http://fringetoronto.com.
photo credit: Amir Gavriely