Friday 14 November 2014

Corpus: Quebec premiere of provocative play on the Holocaust is a real winner

Teesri Duniya Theatre has a real winner on its hands with the Quebec premiere of  Corpus, the award winning play with  a unique storyline related to the Holocaust.

Corpus continues at the cozy MAI (Montreal Arts Interculturels) in the McGill Ghetto   (3680 Jeanne Mance) through November 30. Playwright Darrah Teitel, who penned the script while she was studying at the National Theatre School in Montreal, was at the November 13 opening I attended and will stay her through the weekend and participate in some panel discussions.
Chiazzese and Paulson. (Photos by Mateo H. Cassis)

While Teitel notes this is not based on a true story, such a scenario could have very easily occurred.  The MAI stage is divided into the present and the past. We see Megan (Holly Gauthier-Frankel), a brilliant Canadian genocide scholar who obsessively collects the stories of war crimes through the internet. She stumbles across an unlikely relationship between a Jewish prisoner in Auschwitz and the wife of a Nazi officer. That plays out on the other side of the stage and behind a draped backdrop. The music used is effective and so are the video projections which constantly flash across the screen. This all works really well for in no time at all the audience is wrapped up into the compelling relationship between Eli (a very effective Davide Chiazzese) and his forbidden romance with Eva (Melissa Paulson).

We are also introduced to present-day Eva (Susan Bain), Megan’s thesis advisor Homer (Gilles Plouffe) and her online  lover and Eva’s grandson  Heinrich (Ian  Geldart). Artistic Director Rahul Varma, whom I got the chance to meet for the first time, did  a top-notch job selecting the cast with director Liz Valdez and their team. The flashback scenes are well played out and Chiazzese, an Italian boy from East End Montreal whom I just saw in Billy (The Days of Howling), is clearly a true talent. His roles in Billy and Corpus are completely different which well illustrates his versatility. Gauthier-Frankel is a ball of fire and showcases so much energy in her role that one gets really attached to the character and the significant challenges she faces towards the ends of the story –not to mention a surprise revelation.

Geldart and Gauthier-Frankel.

There are Q & A talkbacks after each Friday evening performance and panel discussions after each Sunday performance. Varma and General Manager Linda Levesque told me that they really want to develop a pedagogical exercise around this play. In keeping with that, some matinee shows will be attended by high school students. I brought my colleague  Tino Bordonaro, the social studies consultant at the English Montreal School Board and he was quite impressed with what he saw. See their teachers guide.

As for the panel discussion, the one slated for after the November 16 show  will feature an artist’s panel answering the question of  What sort of responsibility does an artist undertake when creating or participating in a piece of art involving war? What needs to be taken into account when recounting events through art that have had such long-lasting effects on a community? It will be moderated by CBC’s Sudha Krishnan and include as  panelists Geldart, Bain, playwright  Teitel,  director Valdez, Myrna Selkirk (Professor). On November 23 the question of Where do we Draw the Line?  will be dealt with. As much as we attempt to do so, we cannot enter into the past or view it through a transparent window. Do you think it is a help or a hindrance to historical memory to apply personal stories in modern day research? Where do we draw the line between personal stories and academic work? Again, Krishnan will moderate and her panelists will be Sarah-Jane Kerrlapsly from the Canadian Jewish Association, Bob McBryde of Amnesty International and Jacqueline Celemencki  from the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre. Finally, on November 30, the focus will be on Digitizing the Past. We are now living in a society that has access to technology that was not available to the previous generations. With this in mind, do you think it is this generation’s responsibility to continue interpreting the events of the Holocaust and other historical atrocities? What barriers does technology break down, and what drawbacks does it create? The moderator will be Meghan Pearson and two professors as panelists: Stacey Zembrzyckia and Ted Little.  

Two shows  are already sold out and tickets for others in this 139 seat venue are going quickly. Wednesday to Saturday all shows are at 8 p.m. Sunday matinees are at 3 p.m. Tickets are   $25 for adults; $20 for students/seniors; and $15 for groups (10 or more). There are also group specials. For more information call  514-982-3386 or visit

Here are some clips from the show and interviews with the director and the actors.

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