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Friday, 13 July 2012

Review: Hirsch

Alon Nashman as John Hirsch in Hirsch.
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

created and conceived by Alon Nashman and Paul Thompson
Directed by Paul Thompson
Starring Alon Nashman

The story: Loosely based on the life of John Hirsch, a Hungarian Jew, Holocaust escapee, theatrical visionary, head of CBCs drama department, and one-time artistic director of the Stratford Festival.

One hears stories, volunteering at the Festival, of previous productions and directors that made an indelible mark on Stratford's stages and in patrons' memories. One such person was John Hirsch - by all accounts (and according to a new biography) a firebrand of a man who could reduce actors to tears even while creating works of theatrical wonder that had critics raving, and who pulled the Stratford Festival away from an abyss of financial oblivion so it could go on and eventually celebrate a 60th anniversary. Today, in fact.

Alon Nashman and Paul Thompson's production does not pretend to be a biography, although even recent Stratford Festival attendees are sure to recognize some of the names dropped in recreated moments of Hirsch's career. Neither Mr. Nashman nor Mr. Thompson pull punches about the administration in charge of the Stratford Festival during Hirsch's tenure as artistic director, nor at Hirsch's tyrannical scoffing of their budgets.   Less familiar will be moments from Hirsch's early life, as a 13-year old who had to grow up fast on the streets of Europe after his family perished in the camps of the Holocaust. Nashman and Thompson do not dwell on these sorrows, but they do show how Hirsch's survival informed the productions he directed. Survivor's guilt, they call it. Silent, mind-blowing
horror in the face of unspeakable atrocities.

Nashman takes on the role of Hirsch in an innovative way, moving between Nashman-the-actor who narrates anecdotes of the man, and Hirsch-the-character. In one split-personality moment of metatextuality, Hirsch-the-character becomes Hirsch-the-man, furious at the way Nashman-the-actor is telling his story. He hurls Nashman-the-actor across the stage and stalks out. Nashman is forced to go after him, and the stage is left bare while the audiences listens to two distinct voices argue offstage. Nashman-the-actor returns, pissed off with Hirsch-the-man, and proceeds to tell the rest of the story his own way. It is staging brilliance.
Add c Alon Nashman as John Hirsch in Hirsch.
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

In terms of sheer storytelling and theatricality, this is not a performance to be missed, and anyone who treads the boards will have an even deeper feeling of connection to this unapologetic, passionate director.

Yes, one hears these stories and may well wish for a time-travel device to witness Hirsch's production of The Dybbuk or Tempest oneself - that not being possible, Nashman and Thompson give us the next best thing in this labour of love to portray a difficult man, a man who insisted on telling our own stories, who laid the groundwork for Corner Gas, Little Mosque on the Prairie, and a host of other truly Canadian television and theatre productions.  

Hirsch continues in repertory at the Studio Theatre until September 14th.
Alon Nashman as John Hirsch in Hirsch.
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

1 comment:

  1. Love to be the bearer of good news. Hirsch reviews in London Free Press (****1/2), Ottawa Citizen ("A triumph"), The Beat Magazine (****), James Wegg Review (****), The Slotkin Letter (Poignant and hilarious.), this is an extraordinary show that everyone should see!


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