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Mikveh, currently being staged by the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company in Toronto, was the winner of a 2005 award for play of the year in Israel.

Joanna Akyol/Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company

  • Title: Mikveh
  • Written by: Hadar Galron
  • Genre: Drama
  • Director: Liza Balkan
  • Actors: Theresa Tova and Rosa Labordé
  • Company: Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company
  • Venue: Toronto Centre for the Arts
  • City: Toronto
  • Runs to May 6, 2018

rating

2.5 out of 4 stars


Is it time to forgive the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company for its past mistakes?

Back in 2010, the Toronto theatre company severely compromised its artistic reputation by pulling out of a co-production of Yichud – a Canadian play that gives audiences a peek into an Orthodox Jewish space that is usually hidden from sight: the seclusion room where bride and groom go alone immediately after being married.

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It was a donor-influenced decision, made just seven weeks before rehearsals were to begin, that has hung over the company ever since.

But now, eight years later, that same theatre company is staging Mikveh – an Israeli play that gives audiences a peek at an Orthodox Jewish tradition that is usually hidden from sight: a ritual bath where women of that community go to “purify” themselves before having sex with their husbands.

By any standards, Orthodox-raised playwright Hadar Galron’s work is the more obviously controversial piece – featuring, as it does, a group of female Orthodox Jewish characters from an ultra-religious community in Israel who not only remove their hair coverings but everything else when they immerse themselves in a pool onstage.

Mikveh, the winner of a 2005 award for play of the year in Israel, focuses on two mikveh attendants: Shoshona (Theresa Tova), an older one who believes in respecting the privacy of the women who come for their ritual immersions; and Shira (Rosa Labordé), a younger one from an outside community who believes the all-female space should be a place to find solidarity and share information.

The two clash early and often over what to do and say regarding Chedva (Niki Landau), a client whose naked body reveals she is clearly being physically abused by her husband, a powerful politician; and Tehila (Alice Snaden), another, just 19 years old and terrified of her wedding night with a groom she will only meet earlier in the day.

“This is a women’s mikveh, not a women’s shelter,” Shoshona rages – after Shira tries to provide Chedva with resources for victims of domestic violence or a bit of rudimentary sexual education to Tehila.

Mikveh is a reminder that there are many communities where the #MeToo moment may still be far away – even if Galron provides a glimmer of hope, in a Lysistrata-inspired ending, that orthodox religion and misogyny do not necessarily have to go hand in hand. (Steve Lucas’s set is tastefully designed so the immersions are staged in a non-sensational manner.)

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If you like your dramas to air issues and provoke conversation, you may want to see Mikveh. But if you like dramas that conceal their devices and are artfully constructed, you will be disappointed by Mikveh’s on-the-nose dialogue, obvious plotting and contrived shifts in character in the final act.

There’s some deeply authentic acting from Tova, who is also the Yiddish consultant on the show, while Labordé does a fine job of being a hero – and yet still showing how her do-gooder character might get on others’ nerves. Rising star Snaden shines too – until she’s thrown a character curveball impossible to hit.

But director Lisa Balkan’s production provides little in the way of stylistic coherence when it comes to acting style. This is an ensemble drama where the characters don’t feel like they’re in the same genre of play, never mind the same tightly knit community. As a pop singer named Miki, the one non-Orthodox Jewish character in the show, for instance, Brittany Kay hasn’t just wandered in from secular society – but from some sort of musical-theatre parody.

And yet, despite its flaws, Mikveh is a statement by Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company, belated though it may be, that it is no longer afraid of offending a donor or two in pursuit of its artistic goals.

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