A hot button topic to avoid in plays is religion with all its volatile pitfalls. But tell that to playwright Julie Tepperman and director Aaron Willis. They have created YICHUD (“seclusion”) a play which opened last night at Theatre Passe Muraille, that investigates the self-contained mysterious world of Orthodox Judaism through a typical Orthodox Jewish wedding. Our Theatre Critic Lynn Slotkin was one of the guests at the wedding last night and is here to tell us if this marriage will last or not.
Hello Lynn. First of all, explain that intriguing title, YICHUD (Seclusion).
Yichud (Seclusion) refers to the separation between men and women in daily Orthodox Jewish life. The Yichud room is the place where the bride and groom go to be alone for the first time immediately following the wedding.
What goes on in there is a mystery. Do they talk? Eat? Consummate the marriage? It’s a mystery.
What’s the play actually about?
It’s the wedding day of Rachel and Chaim. Rachel’s a very observant Orthodox Jew but also fiercely independent with a mind of her own. Chaim is nervous, shy and prone to bouts of asthma when he gets stressed.
On this day he is wheezing, big time. This is an arranged marriage. They have had about four dates, all chaperoned. They have never been alone together. Their wedding day will be the first time.
Added to this Rachel has to contend with her unhappy mother, her wise-cracking father who picks that day to wonder what she sees in Chaim.
And Chaim has to cope with his nerves and his two brothers—both religious scholars with one more so than the other and their cruel sense of humour.
While Rachel and Chaim are beginning their life together there is respect, consideration, kindness, and the beginnings of love. Those around them are not so lucky. Rachel’s mother wants a divorce from her father, and he is trying everything to win her back. Chaim’s brothers are unhappy in their marriages.And one of them, a star scholar, is having a crisis of conscience.
Issues of philosophy, belief, faith and doing right and not necessarily what the Torah says are discussed.
Does a person have to be Jewish to appreciate YICHUD? Will non-Jews feel left out?
It’s to the great credit of playwright Julie Tepperman and her tremendous heart and intelligence, that she creates a world and characters we can all identify with.Her research is prodigious.
And by showing how deliberately isolated these people are, quoting scripture in Hebrew discoursing on the fine points of the Torah she is making a universal statement.
They are in their own world. When they get into the wider world they have difficulty. We all can identify with that. Tepperman has a wonderful sense of dialogue, a terrific sense of humour, and tremendous compassion for her characters and that religious tradition.
Coupled with that is a vibrant, lively moving production.
Tell us about that.
Julie Tepperman and her husband Aaron Willis are triple threat theatre artists. She not only wrote this, she also plays Rachel with spunk, wit and easy confidence.
Aaron Willis not only directs with style, using the whole theatre which is
set to look like a synagogue, he also plays Chaim with sweet insecurity, sensitivity, and an open heart.
I understand the production had it’s own bumpy ride to opening night?
Theatre Passe Muraille and the Harold Green Jewish Theatre were supposed to co-produce YICHUD (seclusion). But three months before opening night, the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company withdrew when one of their major donors objected to the play.
This could have meant financial disaster and the cancellation of the production but for the resolve and tenacit of Andy McKim, Artistic Director of Theatre Passe Muraille, willing donors who stepped up to the plate, and a generous theatre community who also donated.
That was impressive.
Theatre reflects who we are as a society, the good and the not so good. If you don’t know that or can’t cope with that reality, you shouldn’t be involved in the theatre.
For the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company to pull the funding at the last minute, smacks of censorship.
YICHUD (Seclusion) is a huge, impressive accomplishment for Julie Tepperman, Aaron Willis their gifted cast and the forward thinking Theatre Passe Muraille.
When theatre is done well, the result is glorious. YICHUD (Seclusion) is done very, very well. I recommend it, very, very highly.
YICHUD (Seclusion) plays at Theatre Passe Muraille until February 27.