Preview: They Say He Fell

THEY SAY HE FELL by Nir Bareket and Donna-Michelle St. Bernard, directed by Jivesh Parasram, with Steven Bush, Tom Arthur.


THEY SAY HE FELL by Nir Bareket and Donna-Michelle St. Bernard, directed by Jivesh Parasram, with Steven Bush, Tom Arthur Davis, Maxine Heppner, Virgilia Griffiths, En Lai Mah and Christopher Stanton. Presented by Pandemic Theatre in association with Cahoots Theatre Company at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson). Runs to October 18, Wednesday-Saturday 7:30 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 2 pm. $25-$30, Sunday pwyc. 416-504-7529, artsboxoffice.ca. See listing.

Late photographer Nir Bareket left a rich legacy from decades of shooting Toronto theatre productions, but now audiences have a chance to see a personal side of the man in They Say He Fell, a play by Bareket and Donna-Michelle St. Bernard.

A memory piece about the death of his elder brother during the repartition of British Palestine, the show uses text, photographs and sound to explore how we experience and sometimes reshape the past.

St. Bernard first met Bareket when he shot for Native Earth Performing Arts and her own company, New Harlem Productions. He asked her if shed be photographed for some of his non-theatre works, and the two became close.

He wanted to document visually how a play comes into existence, she says, among other things capturing on film the moment when I had an idea.

She giggles at the recollection.

I said hed have to spend the night at my place, because those ideas hit me at 3 am.

But he also brought me the two prose stories on which this show is based, and I realized that photography and storytelling were linked for him. In writing the script, Ive tried to use his perspective and see the memories in it from his viewpoint.

Presented by Pandemic Theatre in association with Cahoots Theatre, the work fits into Pandemics mandate to examine marginalized perspectives from a political angle.

The story is set in Palestine before the modern-day state of Israel, and its a way of looking at questions of decolonization and what happens when a colonial master leaves, explains dramaturge and director Jivesh Parasram.

But while the piece is political, it deals with public grieving, and its tone is meditative. Im drawing on South Asian aesthetic theory in my directing, aiming not for an overwhelming cathartic experience but rather a taste of what the spectrum of grief might be. Instead of stressing narrative structure, the production looks at an emotional arc.

At the shows centre are two family photographs, one taken before Barekets brothers death and one shot a few months afterwards.

The differences are painful and beautiful at the same time, notes the director, who also created the soundscape from traditional Sephardic melodies, period tunes and other sources.

Also key to the telling is the idea of the aperture, the opening in a cameras lens that lets in more or less light and focuses our view of a scene. Bareket, who died last March, would have a clear sense of its photographic meaning, but here the idea extends to what we understand about the past.

Nir had what Id call a confident sense of uncertainty about memory, says St. Bernard. Theres a part he knew, he told me, and another he was willing to imagine. Recalling and reconstructing are both part of what we remember.

For me, They Say He Fell widens or narrows the lens to suggest that elements of a tale can at times be left out of the narrative. Theres always a frame just outside of memory, beyond which there is more to discover.

jonkap@nowtoronto.com | @nowtoronto

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