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Anglo theatre: Joshua Harmon’s «Prayer for the French Republic»: A Magnificent Family Odyssey

par Yanik Comeau (Comunik Média / ZoneCulture)

Seven years ago, four years after its off-Broadway debut, Segal Centre Artistic Director Lisa Rubin directed her own production of Joshua Harmon’s first (significant) play Bad Jews and it was such a hit that the Montreal theatre gave it another run in the Fall of 2017. That’s when I had my first taste of Harmon’s delicious dialogue, smart wit and rigorous character development. By delving into the inexhaustible and universal well that is "the family", New York-born Harmon’s Jewish heritage is always at the heart of his writing, i.e. personal experience, but as his latest multiple award-winning play (Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play, Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway Play, and J Trish Vradenburg Jewish Play Prize), 2022’s Prayer for the French Republic shows, anybody who has had a mother, father, brother, sister, nephew can relate.

And relate, we all do. With his typical humour and insightful point of view, Harmon more than ever delves into the challenges and complexities of living with religion, antisemitism, and hate crimes, this time in the war-torn City of Lights of the 1940s through to modern-day Paris dealing with the potential election of Marine Le Pen’s Front national. In the ten years between writing Bad Jews and penning Prayer for the French Republic, Harmon has clearly sharpened his ability to offer complex, nuanced, fiercely hilarious yet brilliantly moving drama without sliping into any type of intellectual hermeticism that would alienate an uninitiated theatre-goer. Harmon’s work is still as accessible and character-driven which is one of the playwright’s great qualities.

To deliver this fresh, lively, insightful script, Lisa Rubin has assembled a stellar cast lead by the remarkable Ellen David as matriarch Marcelle Salomon Benhamou, one of Montreal’s most natural and unaffected, most versatile actresses… and I’m not talking just English-Montreal theatre. After blowing me away in Infinithéâtre’s King of Canada live streaming and Segal’s Dracula, A Comedy of Terrors earlier this season, two shows in which she played multiple characters, David is both hilarious and moving as the parisian mother/doctor. Playing her impetuous, depressed yet fiesty and highly critical monologuing daughter Elodie is the amazing Arielle Shiri in her jaw-dropping professional debut. Alex Poch-Goldin and Daniel Greenberg are both charming and touching as father and son while Madison Graves manages to dodge the pitfalls that might have made cousin Molly unlikable. Eyal Galli and young Misha Kreyzerman are equally credible as tortured souls Lucien and his son while Kreyzerman also plays his own grandfather as a young man. Said grandfather is played by 89-year-old Montreal theatre legend Maurice Podbrey, cofounder and ex-Artistic Director of the Centaur Theatre Company who brought tears to my eyes as soon as he set foot on the Sylvan Adams Theatre stage. Such presence, such sweet appearance of aloofness and yet such formidable might! While the great Richard Jutras (just coming off a starring role in Steve Galluccio’s At the Beginning of Time at the Centaur) is genuinely familial and warm as narrator-Patrick when adressing the audience, breaking the traditional fourth wall, he is a formidable scene partner as brother and brother-in-law to David’s Marcelle and Poch-Goldin’s Charles. Wade Lynch and Felicia Shulman round out the cast as 1940s parents Adolphe and Irma, an endearing and credible couple.

In hopes that the Segal will continue its fructuous relationship with Harmon’s work, it is clear that Prayer for the French Republic is multigenerational, universal and spreads to all faiths. Even those of little or no faith. You just need to have a little faith… in family.

Joshua Harmon’s Prayer for the French Republic

Directed by Lisa Rubin

Assistant to the Director: Gabriela Saltiel

Starring Ellen David (Marcelle Salomon Benhamou), Eyal Galli (Lucien Salomon), Madison Graves (Molly), Daniel Greenberg (Daniel Benhamou), Richard Jutras (Patrick Salomon), Michael ‘Misha’ Kreyzerman (Young Pierre Salomon), Wade Lynch (Adolphe Salomon), Alex Poch-Goldin (Charles Benhamou), Maurice Podbrey (Pierre Salomon), Arielle Shiri (Elodie Salomon) and Felicia Shulman (Irma Salomon)

Set Designer: Brian Dudkiewicz

Costume Designer: Louise Bourret

Lighting Designer: Claude Accolas

Music & Sound Composer: Nick Burgess

Casting: Rachelle Glait

Stage Manager: Mélanie Ermel

Assistant Stage Manager and Voice Recording: Trevor Barrette

Apprentice Stage Manager: Raveena Amani

Translator for subtiltles: Charlie Morin

Surtitle Editor: Delphine Ricard

A Segal Centre for Performing Arts production

April 23rd to May 14th, 2023, dark on Fridays, Saturdays (7pm), Sundays (2pm, 7pm), Mondays and Tuesdays 7pm, Wednesdays 1pm matinee and 7pm, Thursdays 7pm (Duration: 2 hours and 50 minutes including two intermissions)

Sylvan Adams Theatre

Segal Centre for Performing Arts, 5170 Chemin de la Côte-Sainte-Catherine, Montréal

Box Office: 514-739-7944

Photos: Leslie Schachter


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