By Crystal Wood
With a title like A Hamburger in a Pita, you know you’re going to be in for some laughs, which is exactly what I was in the mood for after trudging up to the Toronto Centre of the Arts on a rainy, cold night this week. Thankfully, this play did much to lighten my weather-dampened spirits.
A Hamburger in a Pita is a world premiere by a local playwright, Nina Shenhav, that tells the story of bickering neighbours, one a family of secular Canadian Jews and one a family of Israeli-Canadian Jews. (And I’m sorry to admit that I would be hard-pressed to explain the differences between the two, but the general idea is that these two households don’t see eye-to-eye.)
Since this is a comedy and not a heavy-handed religious play, the bickering largely has to do with the teenage kids acting out their teenage rebellions. One daughter is dating someone who isn’t Jewish; a son aggravates his non-kosher family with his refusal to eat bacon. Then, there’s a Romeo & Juliet-esque storyline (don’t worry, no one dies) where the daughter of one household and the son of another are dating and intend to travel back to the homeland together. Neighbours scrap with neighbours, parents try to understand their kids, and Shenhav throws in a healthy dose of Jewish Mother Guilt. Although there are a few sincere moments, the overall tone is pretty light. The great thing about A Hamburger in a Pita is that although it focuses on various aspects of Jewish identity, the family problems come off as quite universal so everyone in the audience can identify with these characters.
With a cast of eight, some performances were more natural than others, but all of the performers were earnest and committed to their parts. The two stand-outs for me were Ivana Stojanovic as the Israeli mother “Sharon” and Ron Boyd as secular father “Paul.” It seemed like their characters had the most material to work with, although honourable mention goes to Brandon Wickens’ “Scott the boyfriend,” whose character is played entirely for laughs.
As a side note, I took a new friend, Marta, to the show with me and she said it reminded her of watching an episode of 7th Heaven. I haven’t seen that show so I couldn’t say, although I know for a fact that those people weren’t Jewish! (Marta was referring more to the tone, I believe.)
This was my first time taking in a performance by Teatron Theatre, who is about to go into their ninth season. Their mandate is to produce theatre that reflects the Jewish experience, which I think is a great and necessary voice. I’d even be willing to trek up to North York to see more from them.
– Playing until March 13, 2011 at the Toronto Centre for the Arts, 5040 Yonge Street.
– Evening performances are at 8pm, and Sunday matinees at 2pm.
– Tickets range from $31 to $48, with a discount available for students and seniors.
Photo of (L-R): Brandon Wickens, Barb Granek-Gutstein, Menachem Sifen and Ron Boyd.