Review: BOBBIE

by Lynn on September 5, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Five Points Theatre, Barrie, Ont. Presented by Theatre by the Bay until Sept. 10, 2023.

Written by Trudee Romanek

Directed by Lynn Weintraub

Set by Logan Raju Cracknell

Lighting by Tim Rodrigues

Costumes by Selina Jia

Mathew Magneson

Composer, Alondra Vega-Zaldivar

Projections by Khaleel Gandhi

Cast: Ori Black

Olivia Daniels

Nadine Djoury

Matthew Gorman

Trudee Romanek’s play is a good beginning to look into the extraordinaire life of athlete Fanny “Bobbie” Rosenfeld.

The Story. Russia in the early part of the last century was not safe for Jews. Pogroms, racism, and violence made Max Rosenfeld, his wife Sarah, their young son Maurice and their barely one year old daughter Fanny, leave Russia for Canada in 1904. They settled in Barrie, Ont. where Max had family. He became a scrap and antiques dealer who fixed and cleaned stuff for resale.

Tradition meets the yearning for independence when Fanny’s mother, Sarah, wants Fanny to become a good cook and homemaker and find a good man to marry, while Fanny longs to play sports. Mother and daughter are always clashing over the ‘place’ of a young Jewish woman. Father and son clash over what to do about the anti-Semitism that both endure. Max Rosenfeld wants his son Maurice to ignore the taunts and just look down and do nothing and it will eventually go away. Maurice wants to defend himself. Culture clashes, traditions, independence and the tenacity to follow one’s dreams, are what Bobbie is about.  

The Production. Director Lynn Weintraub and designer Logan Raju Cracknell have envisioned a set in a multi-leveled formation of boxes and crates with stairs going up center and then down at the back to stage right.  Lynn Weintraub’s different placements and staging of the scenes represent different locations in the house of in Max’s shop. Occasionally it’s confusing where the characters are. For example, often Sarah stands at the top of a section then goes down the back stairs. Where is she in the house when she is at the top section and where is she going when she goes down those many stairs at the back. It has to make sense and in those instances it doesn’t.

At the top of the play Fanny Rosenfeld, played by a smiling and charming Olivia Daniels, enters and is nicely surprised by the audience that showed up to hear her story. Her manner is easy and welcoming. She tells us who she is and that she has a dilemma and wants the audience to help her solve it–who she is really.  It’s a strange way to begin because we don’t know anything about the charming woman greeting us, or asking for our help. But then the story unfolds and we get a good idea.  

All through the play Fanny Rosenfeld as played by Olivia Daniels is determined, resourceful and self-aware. There is something almost understated in Olivia Daniels’ performance as Fanny: quiet, not making waves etc. but determined to play sports. She knows how to get her brother Maurice (Ori Black) on side. She wants to wear his summer shorts rather than her billowing bloomers because they are easier in which to run. Even then, Fanny was forward thinking. She is determined to run, play sports and improve. She plays sports with her brother’s friends to practice. When she enters races at school she gets noticed for her abilities. And goes from there.

She gives quiet, determined opposition to her mother, Sarah (Nadine Djoury) and her mother’s insistence Fanny learn how to cook properly and tend house so she will be prepared to be a dutiful wife and homemaker. To Sarah, Fanny’s main job is to find a husband. To Fanny, she has to run. How Fanny also chose her middle name of “Bobbie” shows Fanny’s impish determination.

Fanny’s father Max Rosenfeld (Matthew Gorman) was a conscientious worker, always fixing and polishing the stuff he bought and then resold. He did not want trouble and always said to keep one’s head down and not seek out trouble or attention. Fanny’s older brother, Maurice (Ori Black) was a reluctant conspirator with Fanny, keeping her secrets when she went off to train or when she ran a race and didn’t want their parents to know.

Fanny was able to get a job at a company as a stenographer. Fanny’s company knew she was Jewish and they hired her anyway, and they let her off work to run races. Maurice was not so lucky. Many jobs were denied to Jews and advertised it. Fanny suggested Maurice go to university. He told her another truth of the time: there was a quota on how many Jews universities would accept. One night when Maurice left the house to walk off his frustration, he was beaten up by a gang of anti-Semites. When he returned home, bleeding and bruised, his father didn’t want to go to the police and to forget it and not make trouble. Maurice wanted to retaliate.  As Maurice, Ori Black is a man frustrated by the confines he must endure as a Jewish man. He is not meek, mild or wants to be silent. This is a well realized performance of a loving brother and a frustrated, angry man who wants to be able to prove himself without limit.

Fanny experienced anti-Semitism as well in sports: in a hocky game a member of the other team spewed anti-Semitic insults. When Fanny was at the Olympics, there was a controversy about who won a race—Fanny thought it was her and so did the lead judge. The judge was outvoted. Fanny and her supporters wanted a formal protest. In the end the protest did not take place and should have.

Trudee Romanek has detailed the anti-Semitic fraught world that the Rosenfeld’s lived in in Canada and the wider world. The parents experienced violent horrors in Russia and chose to escape it. Max and Sarah Rosenfeld kept telling their children that that violent behaviour is what they escaped from and wanted to save their children the same fate. The children prove that that’s not possible.

While Trudee Romanek has created an interesting play about an unfortunately forgotten presence in sport and the world, I found the play could use another rewrite and rethinking of areas that need to be stronger.

As written, Sarah Rosenfeld is really a one-noted cliché and Nadine Djoury seems to be directed by director Lynn Weintraub to play her as a constant whine about how Fanny has to get married as her future. This is not Nadine Djoury’s fault—it’s how it’s written. (I would say that Ms Djoury could project more to be heard, especially when her back is to the audience). The character needs to be fleshed out and given more scope to be taken seriously. Max Rosenfeld is a man who knows the horrors of war (as does his wife), and Matthew Gorman plays Max as a quiet man who does not want to make waves. Almost timid. Again, more information to flesh him out is in order. We need more information of how he fits in to life in his small town. What has he endured there? We don’t really know.

Matthew Gorman also plays Mr. Stewart, an anti-Semitic newspaper publisher who never misses a chance to criticize Fanny in print when she becomes a notable athlete. Mr. Stewart is also the father of Evelyn (Nadine Djoury), Fanny’s friend and again he was rarely polite to her.

Fanny finally faces Mr. Stewart and sounds him out about his attitude towards her family, saying  her family never did anything negative to Mr. Stewart or his family. Matthew Gorman as Mr. Stewart rails at her and her people. Mr. Stewart says that he came to Canada as an immigrant and worked hard and saved to become a good citizen. He says that the same could not be said of Fanny’s family. Her father bought things cheap and then fixed and polished them and sold them at a profit, thus playing on the stereotype. Her father never ran for public office or contributed to the community as he, Mr. Stewart, did.

While Trudee Romanek has written a bracing conversation here between Fanny and Mr. Stewart, little opportunity is given to Fanny to challenge his blinkered attitude and perhaps change his anti-Semitic mind. I think this is a missed opportunity. Fanny has learned a lot from her own experience and that of her brother about restrictions in job opportunities for Jews, quotas in universities for Jews, and who can come into an establishment or not. (“no Jews or dogs allowed”). Mr. Stewart has no idea about these it seems, so Fanny telling him what he doesn’t know, is in order, otherwise anti-Semitism continues in this character at least.

It’s charming to have Fanny introduce herself and welcome the audience to hear her story. I think it’s unnecessary and confusing to ask the audience to then help her figure out something later, about her life. Fanny doesn’t need help figuring out her life. That’s clear from the beginning of the play. That extra bit about the audience’s help is unnecessary and should be cut.  

Comment. I’m grateful to playwright Trudee Romanek for Bobbie because it certainly gives us a sense of who Fanny “Bobbie” Rosenfeld was, her independence, resolve and tenacity. She bucked tradition and didn’t become a demur housewife like her mother. She did what was right for her and that was to shine in sports.

Trudee Romanek also illustrates the old world thinking of Bobbie’s parents, that if there is trouble, you put your head down, don’t argue back and hope it goes away. This is put against the new world thinking of Fanny and her brother Maurice, that you stand up to that kind of behaviour, Fanny with words, and Maurice wanting to be more forceful. The audience draws its own conclusions. I also found it interesting that the play ends in 1928, when Fanny competed in the Olympics. One wonders what Fanny and her family would think of what happened in Europe from 1933 to 1945 regarding Jews. Interesting play. Another re-write, please.

Theatre by the Bay presents:

Plays until Sept. 10, 2023.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (1 intermission)

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.