ROSE By Martin Sherman, directed by Diana Leblanc (Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company). At Jane Mallett (27 Front East). To March 29. $41.50-$69. 416-366-7723. Rating: NNN
In Martin Sherman’s Rose, the title character never leaves the stage. She’s seated there when the audience enters, and remains through the intermission until the end. This thrice-married Ukrainian-born Holocaust survivor’s monologue haunts the theatre the way her memories of the Warsaw Ghetto haunt her.
Rose (Lally Cadeau) is sitting shiva, the Jewish custom of observing the death of a loved one. Dressed in black, with a symbolic piece of ripped cloth on her lapel, Cadeau delivers a two-and-a-half-hour monologue that is full of sadness and loss and yet exemplifies Jewish endurance in the 20th century.
She brings plenty of emotional and physical strength to her solo role. Her impeccable Jewish dialect would fit in perfectly ordering kasha at United Bakers restaurant at Bathurst and Lawrence.
The script contains lots of details about the Jewish immigration experience after the Second World War, but it also digresses too often into anecdotes and jokey one-liners. When this happens, the audience zones out, but Cadeau always woos them back.
Director Diana Leblanc could have helped by adding more physicality to the staging. Giving Rose a task, like when she takes her pills, strengthens the less dramatic sections.
Although keeping Rose constantly lit by Phillip Silver’s gently fluctuating lighting makes a powerful impact (the lights never fade to black until the very end), Leblanc takes the sitting shiva concept too literally, with visually static results.
The anticlimactic ending really disappoints. But with its nostalgic references to a fading Jewish cultural world, much of Rose does bloom, helping the new Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company plant its roots in Toronto’s theatre scene.