SHIKSAS SIT SHIVA by Catherine Hayos and Melinda Little, directed by Anita La Selva. Presented by In the Company of Grace at the Royal St. George (120 Howland). July 7 at 5:15 pm, July 9 at 6:45 pm, July 10 at 12:45 pm, July 12 at 2 pm, July 14 at 8:45 pm, July 15 at 1:45 pm. Rating: NNNNN
There's hardly a more solemn oc casion in Jewish religion than shiva, the ritual mourning that follows a death. It's traditional to sit shiva, as the phrase goes, for seven days.
Shiva gives structure to the lives and emotions of those left behind, but in the hands of playwright/actors Catherine Hayos and Melinda Little , it becomes an occasion to sort out unspoken family woes and laugh a little.
Their play Shiksas Sit Shiva a shiksa is a non-Jewish woman, and don't try saying the title fast five times takes place in the kitchen of a Jewish patriarch. Its characters are women, relatives by blood or marriage.
"Shiva rules can be supportive or a source of conflict and strife," says Hayos, "and it's usual that over the course of the seven days people get worn out. That's when the previously unspoken emotions emerge."
"The house where you sit shiva becomes a container where it's safe to grieve," adds Little. "In today's society we're told you've got to hold it in, and we've played with that idea. My WASP background suggests that I always say I'm fine, no matter what I'm really feeling. Only one of the play's women is Jewish; the others are married to or living with Jewish men."
The idea for the script grew out of Hayos and Little's own experience as sisters-in-law when a family member died.
"We realized that it was the women who spent their time in the kitchen and had a different journey than that of the men in the living room," continues Hayos. "The women handled various daily responsibilities and also had to deal with their own feelings of loss."
Hayos plays Rachel, the eldest in the family, who feels passed over, because she's a woman, in favour of her younger brothers. No surprise that she has issues with her deceased father. Little's Joanne, a shiksa wife who's thinking of converting, is a stickler for the shiva rules.
"Joanne always wants to do the right thing," smiles Little. "At some point another character, astute and cynical, asks her when she's going to live by her own standards rather than someone else's."
We also meet two other sisters-in-law with their own issues and Brenda, the older woman who'd been the father's partner for several years. She has to put up with a visiting aunt's comical "Jew test" to see if she's entitled to be part of the family.
No surprise, given the characters, that the show's set in a kitchen.
"A kitchen's the refuge for the women, the heart of so many families, where stories get passed down as the bubbie (grandmother) washes dishes with her grandkids," notes Hayos. "That's where a lot of a shiva happens, with the preparation of food, and it's the women who are typically the support group for everyone.
"But who takes care of the people who take care of the people?"