REMNANTS by Jason Sherman, directed by Richard Rose, with Dmitry Chepovetsky, Victor Ertmanis, Jerry Franken, Kyle Horton, Jason Jazrawy, Alon Nashman and Alex Poch-Goldin. Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman). Previews through Sunday (September 21), opens Tuesday (September 23) and runs to October 26, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday (except September 20) 2:30 pm. $26-$32, Sunday pwyc-$15, previews $17. 416-531-1827. Rating: NNNNN
Actor Dmitry Chepovetsky plays serious in Jason Sherman's new play, Remnants. Audiences remember him best for funny, especially his scintillating turn as Maverick, the talented but dumb performer in Top Gun: The Musical. Maverick never gets it when a flamingly gay fellow actor comes on to him. Chepovetsky has the voice and the acting chops to make the character hysterically funny yet totally endearing.
"My family spent nine months in Italy on our way to Canada, and I remember that while my brother worked at a gas station I stood outside and entertained people.
"I made someone laugh then, and that sound has always stayed with me."
In Sherman's play, though, the Tarragon season opener, Chepovetsky plays father's-favourite Joseph, who so upsets his brothers in 1920s Poland that they finagle to send him away to Canada. Through a series of life-changing coincidences, Joseph becomes an aide to Mackenzie King and discovers, when he deals with a shipload of Jewish refugees seeking Canadian asylum in 1936, that his brothers are among them.
Sound familiar? It's a version of the biblical tale of Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. He later confronts them from a position of power when they come to Egypt begging for help.
This, and his roles in Zadie's Shoes and the The Danish Play, where Chepovetsky played Michael, part of the Resistance-fighter circle of central character Agnete Ottosen, have brought him back to his roots.
"I left the Ukraine when I was six," Chepovetsky recalls. "My family was one of 1,000 Jewish families who were allowed to leave. We were heading for Israel, but my parents got as far as Austria and decided to go somewhere else.
"We ended up in Regina," he laughs, "which is where I grew up."
As far as his Joseph goes, forget Andrew Lloyd Webber. There's no Technicolor dream coat, no up-tempo "Go-go-go-Joseph" tunes here.
"This is one of several roles that seem to have found me and let me explore my heritage," the actor philosophizes. "My grandparents were starved by Stalin, my father was born in 1939 in the Ukraine, I was born in Lvov, which was then on the Polish border."
Remnants is an epic tale, a play that takes a small familial story and gives it a larger context.
"Like the biblical Joseph, my character has a sense of the future. He's perceptive instead of psychic, like a good psychoanalyst. Just as Pharaoh benefits from Joseph's interpretations in Genesis, Mackenzie King relies on this later Joseph.
"Because he suffers himself when he arrives in Canada during the Depression, Joseph learns to understand his brothers, and that helps him develop an objective perspective on life. With that growth comes the ability to forgive.
"But there's nothing premeditated in his actions. He's on a path where he has to make moment-to-moment choices. There's a destiny he seems to be following, whatever he decides to do."