For many who lived through the Second World War and its aftermath, the scars of lives uprooted and the joy of survival, combined with mourning those who did not, have the makings of an explosive juxtaposition.
Real-life drama of this kind is what actor-writerdirector Anna Fuerstenberg has known from the time she was born after the war, in a displaced person’s camp outside Stuttgart, then in West Germany. Her parents had fled Radom, Poland ahead of the invading Germans and survived in the Soviet Union, in Kyrgystan. Her father served in the Red Army.
The family came to Montreal in the 1950s, sponsored by a Montreal cousin. While attending Guy Drummond elementary school in Outremont, Anna at 8 won a public speaking contest and was awarded a year’s training at the Montreal Repertory Theatre School. Since then the theatre has been a big part of her life—as an actor, teacher, director, and writer, with humour being part of her repertoire.
Her latest work, based on her life story, is being offered in French as Guérillas, Humour et Compassion, by Réverbère Théâtre, November 6 to 22 at Studio Jean-Valcourt du Conservatoire, 4750 Henri Julien, east of St. Laurent. The play premiered in English last year in Nashville as a one-woman show, and has since been translated by Odette Guimond and Odette Lours.
The Montreal performance, directed by Fuerstenberg, stars Mariève Bibeau, Élizabeth Chouvalidzé, and Odette Guimond. As it develops, clarinetist Chester Howard is on stage playing Jewish folk and klezmer music.
It is presented for the first time in Montreal in French, and as she notes, with tongue in cheek, the play could have a tag line that says: “Mama went as far east she could to get away from the Nazis, and Anna had to go as far west as she could to get away from mama.”
The play follows Anna’s mother Regina from Poland to the Soviet Union, coping with loss as she learns that 85 family members were victims of the German war against the Jews. This contributes to her depression, so common among survivors. The play’s second half depicts Anna reconciling with her overprotective mama, turning the tables and becoming her caregiver. Odette Guimond and Mariève Bibeau play Anna and Élizabeth Chouvalidzé plays mama.
“There is a lot of music, sung in Yiddish, and the two Annas sing and dance and perform. They’re very physical actors, just brilliant, and made me laugh out loud.”
In spite of the saga’s dark backdrop, there is no shortage of humour, Fuerstenberg noted. “Neither my mother, nor I, took life too seriously—from the darkest lives, the funniest moments.”
Tickets cost $28, adults 60 and over and students pay $23. For reservations call 514-873-4031, local 313, or admission.com.