Montreal, October 12, 2017 – A new independent theatre company, Labyrinth Stage Productions, comes into being with a world premiere play written by its two co-founders and playwrights, Claudia Litvak Polachek and Pearl Rothenberg. QUEEN OF CHESED, directed by the esteemed, award-winning stage, TV and film actor, Ellen David, is inspired by New York Brooklynite, Faige Jacobson, and her makeshift homeless shelter. The production plays for a limited run of two shows on November 15th and 16th at the historic Outremont Theatre, located at 1248 Bernard Avenue West.
“I was born to take care of these people. God gave me a big heart […] Anyone who comes to Crown Heights knows they won’t be out in the streets.” – Faige Jacobson
(New York Daily News article by Simone Weichselbaum, July 2013)
The dramatic comedy draws its theme from the Hebrew word meaning acts of loving kindness. Faigie is determined to be the Crown Heights queen of kindness, much to the exasperation of her husband and children as they tiptoe around mattresses strewn across the living room and kitchen floors. The lively, chaotic home is a harbor of hope, secrets and even romance, overflowing with eccentric, down-on-their-luck “guests” that drop in for a free meal but stay for years. Things go seriously sideways when the media misconstrue Faigie’s generosity, a huge overdue bill is discovered and a valuable piece of jewelry goes missing. How will Faigie take good care of her family and continue to be the best do-gooder in town?
“Starting a new company and producing our first script was a surreal and thrilling experience,” said Pearl. “We envisioned Sam Stein playing Faigie’s husband, Tatti, while we were writing the play but when he agreed to play the part and then soon after, Ellen David joined the team, not only as Faigie but also to direct, reality exceeded our wildest dreams. Our entire cast and crew has brought this production to a whole new level that we never expected … magical is the only way to describe our maiden journey into the realm of theatre.”
Claudia and Pearl first became aware of Faige through her son, the prominent Montreal Rabbi Asher Jacobson. “The more stories we heard of Rabbi Jacobson’s home life growing up,” said Pearl,” the more intrigued we became with Faige and the ad hoc shelter she’s been running for four decades.” Claudia revealed that, “Some of the events and characters are real—Charlie ‘Buttons’ is really one of Faige’s permanent “guests” and the city’s Department of Buildings did fine Faige thousands of dollars for housing violations—providing us with fertile soil in which to cultivate fictional characters and a story arc with entertainment appeal.”
As part of her research, consummate professional Ellen David traveled to Brooklyn to meet the unique Faige in order to capture the authenticity of her home and the boundless energy and enthusiasm of the mother of nine and grandmother of forty. “Portraying a real person is a huge responsibility and challenge that I take very seriously and as it turned out, I too already knew of Faige through Rabbi Jacobson. When I went to meet her in Brooklyn, I listened to her stories and even got to taste some of her delicious soup! She is quite a woman and walking through her home, soaking up the ambience and meeting her “guests”, was an informative and rich experience.”
The eleven-member cast features Ellen David as the unstoppable Faigie. Playing opposite her as Tatti, Faigie’s endlessly patient and wise husband, is Sam Stein, a Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre fixture who has been entertaining for over fifty years. Faigie’s houseguests include Zalman, played by thirty-year production manager/theatre carpenter and actor, Bill Fletcher; Ethel, an extrovert who believes she is Ethel Merman, is portrayed with panache by Evy Solomon; Charlie the Button Man, is incarnated by another long-time Yiddish Theatre member, Fishel Goldig; and John, a regular at Faigie’s who, like Charlie, is not what he seems, is interpreted by Adam Recine. The ACTRA Award-winning film, TV and voice-over actor, Liz MacRae, is the news reporter and Benjamin Warner, singer/songwriter/actor/
The roles of Faigie and Tatti’s children are filled by recent Concordia Theatre Program graduate, David Hall, as Yossi the oldest son living at home; Katie Kowarsky, making her acting debut as Sarah, the daughter with big dreams; and Devon Packer, who has been performing for audiences in venues such as Place des Arts, Oscar Peterson Hall and Carnegie Hall since he was seven, is the young Moishie.
National Theatre School graduate, Léa Robertson, who designed the set for Ms. David’s direction of Moonlight and Magnolias (Theatre Lac-Brome) designed the set and Louise Bourret, with thirty years to her credit collaborating with Cirque du Soleil, Cavalia, the Segal Centre and many more, designed the costumes. Julien St-Pierre, who also worked with Ms. David previously (Theatre Lac-Brome, Infinithéâtre, Centaur Theatre), created the lighting design, and internationally renowned composer, Dmitri Marine, designed the sound. Actor and budding film maker, Raphael Cohen-Demers, provided the video footage used in this production. Malika Pharand stage manages the relatively large troupe, with assistance from Susan Klein in her first stage production, and aspiring film director, Adam Daniel Koren, who trained at the Stagedoor Manor (NY), Concordia University and Sheridan College, was the assistant to Ms. David.
BIRTH OF A COMPANY
When Pearl and Claudia met at a social function, Pearl was already familiar with Claudia’s work as a writer/director with the Akiva Players. As a psychologist, Pearl had an ear for dialogue and a rich reservoir of experiences from which to draw, but didn’t know anything about structuring a play. Conversely, Claudia had writing experience but needed original ideas. A slip on the ice in 2013 was the auspicious beginning of the creative partnership when Claudia, holed up with a broken ankle, collaborated with Pearl for two hours a week. Within a year, they had first drafts of two plays, one of which was Queen of Chesed. Pearl retired from her psychology practice and Labyrinth Stage Productions was born.
Founded in 2016, the goal of Labyrinth Stage Productions is to produce original English Canadian plays. The labyrinth, an ancient symbol that relates to wholeness, is a metaphor for life’s journey. It represents a circuitous voyage along a meandering and purposeful path to one’s own centre and back out again into the world with some degree of personal transformation having taken place in the process and perfectly represents the psychological and spiritual themes of the plays Labyrinth wants to produce.
Tickets for the two evening performances are $49 or $59 dollars. Free parking is available in the Paul-Gérin–Lajoie School parking lot after 6pm (475 Bloomfield Avenue). For more information or to purchase tickets, call the Outremont Theatre at 514-495-9944 or visit www.labyrinthstageproductions.