Admittedly, I worry about seeing one-woman plays. I worry for the one woman-that she might forget her lines or simply get too tired to plug on and just give up. I worry about myself-that my mind will wander and I will become fidgety and distracted. Such were my worries on the way to Rose, which had its opening night last Wednesday, February 9 at the Saidye Bronfman.
I needn't have fretted. Martha Henry, toted as "the first lady of the Canadian stage" (a title she deems "silly"), delivers an incredible performance as Rose. The play, written by Martin Sherman and directed by Diana Leblanc, tells the story of an eighty-year-old Jewish woman who is sitting shiva. Sitting shiva-as I recently learned-is the seven-day mourning period following a funeral. The basic premise of the play is that Rose sits on a wooden bench and remembers her life.
Rose has lived through some of the most horrific moments of the past century, from the Holocaust to the doomed refuge ship the Exodus. It may sound pretty grim, but Rose is a woman of wit, humour and remarkable lack of bitterness. She's actually quite bawdy, which I certainly appreciated. She says at one point, "Atlantic City was Warsaw-on-the-Sea, which was ironic because if ever a people were not built for bathing suits, it was ours."
Martha Henry's mannerisms are so dead-on that I was surprised to find out, after the show, that she is not Jewish. In fact, she initially refused the role thinking she wasn't the appropriate actress for the play. "You have to be Jewish in your bones to play this," she had said when approached. Apparently, she was also daunted by the idea of a one-woman play. Whatever fears she initially had, Henry shows complete mastery of the script and the character (likely this is also a result of Leblanc's direction). From her body language to her Yiddish expressions, Henry is completely convincing. Within moments, I was relaxed and ready to hear the story of this woman's life. Of course, the play is not just about one woman; it also breaches difficult subjects like what it means to be Jewish, what it means to be a victim and what it means to fight back. The play isn't moralistic or condemning, but rather a very well told story about where the political and the personal meet.
Rose runs February 6- 27, 2005, at the Saidye Bronfman Centre. For tickets, please call (514) 739-7944.