When all is said and done, it is absolutely blatantly obvious when a piece of theatre or storytelling is amazing. Rose, written by Martin Sherman and performed by Fiona York at The Kalk Bay Theatre is just that; a performance that crept up on me (it had time to; it was two hours long) and had me sobbing and sniffing onto my sleeves again.
On a wooden bench (she is sitting shiva), Rose tells the extraordinary story of her life; a Jewish peasant girl growing up in a village in the Ukraine where she feels like she doesn’t belong, to her escape as a young girl to meet up with her brother in Warsaw. She tells of her time during the war, in the Ghetto, her rescue and final convoluted trip to Palestine that ended up in America, with a second husband, and the feisty creation of an interesting, unusual life.
Punctuated with delicious humour, strange little details, and of course the terrible facts that Rose has trouble ‘remembering’, this is an engrossing story told absolutely brilliantly.
Again, I wasn’t sure about whether I was going to like this one. At the heart of the tale sits a Jewish holocaust survivor story. As I have said before, been there done that. But the character of Rose navigates an original take on this, making its horrors fresh and personal. I was also uncomfortable about how the whole Palestine/Israel issue would be handled. It is no secret that I have very strong anti-Israel occupation of Palestine feelings. Well, I don’t want to give the story away, but this was for me the most moving, tragic and brilliantly resolved moment of the whole thing.
Rose sneaks up on you, and her mannerisms, cowardice. quirks, bravery and foibles become totally endearing. You want a happy life for her, but what you get is a real life, told in the simplest, truest way.
It is always interesting for me when somebody who isn’t Jewish plays someone who is. It is an interesting debate. It’s not like a specifically black character. There is the issue of colour. It wouldn’t be believed. But can you tell whether someone is Jewish? Fiona York does a brilliant job because she plays the person, not the characteristics. I had one or two moments where I found her accent a bit weird, and her pronunciation of chuppah made the u sound like ‘cup’ instead of ‘hoop’, but I am nitpicking as only a Jewish somebody could. (If my fingers weren’t typing they would be making hand gestures.)
If I could be like Fiona York when I am in my later years I would be so happy. I aspire to be her, and do her kind of work.
PS. It is going to be so, so interesting to see if this production is accepted by the Jewish grapevine here in Cape Town. Of course it should, but will it be politically challenging?