Review: In Seven Days

by Lynn on February 21, 2024

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Grand Theatre, London, Ont. A co-production with the Grand Theatre and the Harold Green Jewish Theatre. Playing until March 2, 2024.

Written by Jordi Mand

Directed by Philip Akin

Set and costumes by Sean Mulcahy

Lighting by Siohbán Sleath

Sound by Lyon Smith

Cast: Mairi Babb

Ron Lea

Brendan McMurtry-Howlett

Shaina Silver-Baird

Ralph Small

A smart, funny, moving play about living even when one person chooses not to go on.

The Story. Rachel is a harried lawyer from Toronto, visiting her father and his partner Shelley in London, Ont. She’s brought Shelley the six dozen bagels she asked for to take to Temple the next day. They are the wrong kind of bagel. Who brings six dozen poppyseed bagels, I ask you? And then there is the little matter of Rachel’s father Sam deciding that since his cancer has come back and he’s in constant pain, he will avail himself of MAID (medical assistance in dying) in seven days. Rachel is not having a good day, and the bagels are the least of it.

The Production. Sean Mulcahy has designed a stylish, neat set of Sam and Shelley’s living room/kitchen. The room is light-filled with comfortable furniture. The kitchen is pristine with everything put away. A tea-towel hangs over the oven door handle. There are doors up center and to the house right and house left side.

Rachel (Shaina Silver-Baird) arrives, calls out, flops the bags of bagels on the counter in the kitchen and calls out again. Shelley (Mairi Babb) comes out of one of the closed doors up center. She asks Rachel to be quiet because Rachel’s father Sam (Ron Lea) is sleeping. Then the two have an extended conversation about bagels, specifically sesame vs poppyseed. Rachel has bought six dozen poppyseed bagels when Shelley is sure she asked for sesame. They didn’t have sesame, there was only poppyseed. Shelley questions Rachel on when she bought them and chided her for buying them so late when they only had poppyseed that no one at Temple would touch. Shelley has to make a good impression because she’s responsible for the bagels. You can’t buy good bagels in London, Ont. Rachel can’t see the importance of it all. She’s exasperated. Then she has to explain that she didn’t bring ‘the boyfriend’ because they broke up. More interrogation.

Sam (Ron Lea) appears from the same room that Shelley appeared from. He walks slowly with a cane, and is obviously in pain. He’s happy to see Rachel but has something to tell her. His cancer has come back and it’s spread. He can’t face more chemo treatments. He’s decided to avail himself of MAID (Medical Assistance in Dying) in seven days. Rachel is horrified and goes into overdrive to change his mind and call all sorts of experts to offer an alternative. As Rachel, Shaina Silver-Baird is direct, take charge, impatient when challenged because she feels that she is doing right and yet unsettled by this turn of events.

And so playwright Jordi Mand begins her buoyant, moving play with the setup of humour about bagels and making an impression and then drops the bombshell of Sam using MAID because he’s tired and hurts and wants to decide when he will leave this earth, on his terms.

This all happens in about the first 10 minutes so this is not a spoiler alert. If there is a spoiler alert for In Seven Days it’s that the cover of the programme got it wrong when it says the show is “a comedy about death.” It’s not. It’s a comedy about living and that’s a whole other thing and it will move you to your toenails.

Over the course of the 90-minute play people will gather to offer comfort. Rachel’s ‘former’ boyfriend, Darren, (Brendan McMurtry-Howlett) will arrive from Toronto, hoping to offer her support, even though they broke up. Sam’s boyhood friend Eli, (Ralph Small) now a rabbi, drops by both as a friend and to put things into a Jewish perspective. What Sam is planning to do is murder. It’s a sin. Sam knows it. The discussions between these two old friends, performed by Ron Lea as Sam and Ralph Small as Eli is to watch two acting pros play these two Jewish characters, who know the body language, the nuance and the profound eloquence of a perfectly placed shrug.

Ron Lea plays Sam as a man who is content with his life and his decision to end it. He’s loving to those around him, certainly Rachel and Shelley. He even comes to appreciate Darren, and that’s because Brendan McMurtry-Howlett as Darren won’t let him off the hook. There is a wonderful scene involving ice cream in which both men learn about the other and form a respect and appreciation. Brendan McMurtry-Howlett gives a charming, boyish and accomplished performance as Darren.

Mairi Babb plays Shelley as a woman who has done all the heavy lifting before we arrive. We assume that Shelley has had the gut-wrenching conversation with Sam when she first got the news of his recurring cancer and his decision to end the pain. Shelley is a woman who loves her partner and will support his decision, no matter how she feels about it.  She goes about her duties with determination and an effort to focus on doing well for the Temple when she brings the bagels, albeit the wrong kind! Mairi Babb plays Shelley as a woman who has to put up a good front, both for herself and for Sam. One can see the reasonings behind it. Mairi Babb gives a delicate, subtle performance of a caring woman.

Director Philip Akin digs deep into this play that is so suffused in Judaism and being Jewish. The relationships are beautifully illuminated, not just between father and daughter and loving partners, but also between two old guys who have known each other since they were little kids when they traded baseball cards while sitting on the curb. There is a physical expression of that close relationship late in the play between Sam and Eli that is perfect—it leaves you limp in your seat with the quiet emotion of it all. In Seven Days is a play about ceremony, ritual, tradition and making a hard decision that is right. Jordi Mand and her gifted cast and director, will have you thinking about it long after you leave the theatre.

NOTE: During the play Shaina Silver-Baird as Rachel sings the Hebrew song “Erev Shel Shoshanim”, often sung at certain Jewish ceremonies. I love that song and in my collection of world music, consider the renditions of it sung by Miriam Makeba and Nana Mouskouri to be two of the best. I’ll now add Shaina Silver-Baird to that special list. Beautiful.

Comment. In Seven Days Jordi Mand has written a play about living, grabbing life, showing up when a friend or loved one needs you there, no matter how dire the circumstances. It’s about changing your mind, but not in the way expected and changing your perspective but not in an easy way. It’s about doing what’s right for our loved ones. Terrific play. Cause for celebration.

A co-production with the Grand Theatre and the Harold Green Jewish Theatre

Plays until March 2 (in London, Ont.)

Opens in Toronto May 9 at the Harold Green Jewish Theatre

Running time: 90 minutes (no intermission)

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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.