My Rabbi by Sum Theatre. A review. Presented by Puente Theatre at the Belfry Theatre in Victoria BC September 16-28, 2014.
In a sparse 60 minutes a world of friendship, loyalty and faith is played out amidst an ever-changing global and national landscape.
Arya (Kayvon Kelly) and Jacob (Joel Bernbaum) are childhood friends from Saskatoon—one Jewish, the other Muslim—who navigate their way to adulthood with little tension until faith comes calling.
My Rabbi follows a criss-crossing path back and forth from now to then (10 years earlier) when life was simple and conversations consisted of contemplating the night’s conquest(s) and worrying about relationships with fathers.
Kelly and Bernstein were inspired by their real life friendship, but the story is not autobiographical.
Recently graduated from the Canadian College of Performing Arts, they sketched out the play’s concept on a bar napkin, and then work shopped it with Puente Theatre in 2009 at WordPlay. Further development followed and this past summer the playwrights premiered My Rabbi at the Edinburgh Fringe.
Current Canadian society has a propensity for avoiding difficult conversations, and the elephant remains firmly in the room. What happens when two young men can no longer share what roots them in the world—faith and culture? They are reduced to pop culture as a unifier. This is most clearly portrayed in My Rabbi by vulgar conversations about women and sex. It’s part of a normalized rite of passage. Attempts at deeper personal connection are stifled along the way as the friends respective faiths grow. Ultimately they drift apart.
My Rabbi is not an easy play—it forces the audience to confront personal notions of friendship and family, of loyalty and faith—and its implications go far beyond the challenges facing Muslims and Jews. Within the story of Arya and Jacob lie the roots of historic and current conflict world-wide. How do we, as humans, find ways to share our humanness without separating ourselves by our differences?
The drama in this ages-old story is made all the more compelling by the complete normalcy of the two main characters. Neither one of them is a radical or conservative—Arya and Jacob are simply trying to find their way in an increasingly complex world. That their friendship would fall victim is the ultimate tragedy.
Kelly and Bernbaum have created highly compelling characters set in realistic circumstances; there is an ease in their onstage interactions that surely benefits from their real life friendship. At times it truly feels voyeuristic—particularly as the young men struggle with the expectations placed on them by their fathers. Light comedic touches ensure that the overall tone remains one of fragile hope, rather than bleak despair.
With the world’s attention currently focused on the Middle East, amid news of Canadians recruited to ISIS, My Rabbi is hyper-topical. This taut drama will break your heart with its timeliness while illuminating faith-worlds and opening a Pandora’s box of questions.
The Canadian premiere in Victoria is followed by stops in Vancouver (Firehall Arts Centre October 7-18) and Saskatoon (The Refinery Arts & Spirit Centre October 30-November 9).
A Jew and a Muslim walk into a bar…
My Rabbi is a comedic drama about two Canadian best friends who go on spiritual journeys that change their lives.
My Rabbi marks the first event for Puente Theatre Presents. Look for more during the year.
Disclaimer: I was graciously provided with complimentary tickets to attend My Rabbi.