No experience of art - and I'm including going to the most kick-ass rock concert - delivers the sense of urgency that rivals live theatre. I was reminded of this again this last weekend in Montreal when I attended a performance of The Diary Of Anne Frank at the Joseph Segal Theatre in the Sadye Bronfman Centre for the Arts.
It's Holocaust Remembrance Week, which is one of the reasons I wanted to go to the show with my partner and daughter. I also wanted to be in that theatre at the very moment in history when Quebecers are raising the spectre of a dangerous nationalism via their debates on so-called reasonable accomodation of immigrants wanting to honour and live by their own cultures.
As Anne Frank tore off her coat the yellow Jewish star she was forced to wear on the streets of occupied Amsterdam, I thought of the Jews in Quebec who, if some rural rednecks get their way, won't be able to wear their cepahs on their head. And I thought, too, of the Muslim women who won't be able to wear the hijab because diversity is seen as such a threat to Quebec's...Quebec's what? Purity? Jews are often admonished for obsessing too much about the Holocaust. But the reasonable accomodation debates in Quebec make it clear that racism has not gone away.
I had seen the play recently at Stratford, but the experience there, in a large theatre in a pretty much WASPy audience had none of the power and intensity that I experienced at the Segal. For one thing, I saw a much superior performer as Anne in the person of Natasha Greenblatt, who went from tween to hormonally challenged teen in 90 brilliant minutes.
The theatre, too, was a much more appropriate venue than Stratford's Avon. It's intimate in such a way that we felt incarcerated with the eight hideaways. During the intermission, especially, when the actors do not leave the stage, we got a much stronger sense of being in an excruciatingly closed space.
And seeing this play with a Jewish audience was a mindblowing experience. As Otto Frank gave the last monologue explaining how his entire family perished, it felt like the entire building shook with grief. I was seriously concerned that someone among the viewers would collapse of heart failure as I realized that there was not a single person in that audience who had not lost a member of their family in that horrifying spasm of anti-Semitism we call the Holocaust.
Lest we forget.