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May 14, 2015

Leah Cherniak on The Dybbuk in rehearsal


It has been a while since I’ve been on stage in a cast of this size. In The Dybbuk rehearsal hall we have Soulpepper Founding Members, actors from present and past Soulpepper Academies, regular company members and a few new faces. There are many different generations at work and it’s an exciting mix. I am also proud to be among the Jews in the cast. Although we rarely agree on anything, we provide pronunciations, lessons in history and customs, and Jewish jokes. And Albert Schultz, as our fearless director, brings unity and vision to the room.

For a show so dark and emotional, there is much laughter in the rehearsal hall. Albert allows for us to amuse each other and he also tells great stories. We are also ever-ready to explore with him his new staging ideas. For instance, at the end of last week we began experimenting with an original, exciting way to end the play. I’ll only say that light and dark are big themes in the play and every day we are finding more of this thematic resonance in the production.

As Associate Director of the Soulpepper Academy, it’s beautiful to watch some of this year’s Academy members, including Hailey Gillis and Colin Palangio, playing major parts and learning so much in rehearsal. Albert supports and directs them towards becoming the best actors they can be. It’s astonishing to watch them move from being young student actors to taking responsibility for big, powerful roles. I’m very moved by that – we all want to see them do their best. Somehow this seems to mirror themes in the play. Their characters are youthful, vulnerable and fresh; they’re the light in a story steeped in a dark and confusing world.

This play is strong in atmosphere and tone and so well-crafted by playwright Anton Piatigorsky. On the page it can seem strange, full of compelling mysticism and superstition. It doesn’t take long to become mesmerized by this world and the story of how a fearful and insular community struggles with destiny and justice. At its centre, The Dybbuk is a love story between two young people that haven’t spoken more than a few words to each other. But they feel a connection that we recognize as love at first sight, true love, and we also understand it as destiny.
I love the arguments in the piece, the discussion that is being provoked between intellect and faith; the chafing of a younger generation in the face of a growing incomprehensible older one; the young are questioning the values of an increasingly old and weary community. This play also questions the validity of destiny and free will – like in a Greek play, or as in Shakespeare. So I find myself contemplating the concept of destiny. Really? A preordained future? A realizable purpose in life? Several times I’m reminded of forces beyond my control, and how frustrating that can seem. And yet at times it’s also comforting to surrender control to destiny!

With The Dybbuk we are performing some elegant, deceptively simple storytelling, and the play is deep and compelling. As we head into previews, I look forward to the experience of the audience, the inevitable transfer of a specific energy and pulse from the stage to the seats and back again.

Interview compiled by Katie Saunoris. The Dybbuk, or Between Two Worlds is on stage from May 14 to June 18. Leah Cherniak, photo: Sandy Nicholson. In rehearsal, Colin Palangio and ensemble, photo: Nathan Kelly.