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Playwright directs her own French premiere

Guérillas - Humour et compassion
Guérillas - Humour et compassion

Anna Fuerstenberg misses her mother, a Holocaust survivor whose memoirs she recorded.

But she brings her back to life in Guérillas: Humour et Compassion, a landmark script she wrote and is directing Nov. 6-22 under the aegis of Réverbère Théâtre, at Studio Jean-Valcourt du Conservatoire, 4750 Henri Julien Ave.

“I’m the first English-language playwright in Canada to direct her own play in French,” claims Fuerstenberg, who performed The Guerilla Caregiver as a one-woman show at the Dark Horse Theater in Nashville, Tenn., but has since cast three performers to interpret the French version, including Odette Guimond, who co-translated the script with Odette Lours.

Guimond is artistic director of Réverbère Théâtre and an award-winning director and performer in her own right. She is also a purveyor of the Feldenkrais method, an Israeli technique that facilitates movement, for which Fuerstenberg registered when she toppled off a nine-foot stage platform a dozen years ago and fractured seven vertebrae.

Guimond was instrumental in putting Fuerstenberg back on her feet. Their creative partnership for this project came about when Guimond attended a reading of the play and fell in love with it.

“I thought it would be touching for French people in Quebec who don’t know much about Yiddish culture and the Jewish Holocaust,” says the actor/director who plays the role of Anna.

Beloved veteran performer Elisabeth Chouvalidzé plays feisty Mama (Fuerstenberg’s mother, Regina Sowa Fuerstenberg), and Mariève Bibeau accomplishes the daunting task of playing all the other roles, including Anna as a teenager and child, Dr. Green at the Jewish General Hospital, Anna’s brother Adam and her father. Though the play’s theme is serious, humour is woven into its fabric, as exemplified by the show’s tagline: “Mama went as far east as she could go to get away from the Nazis, and Anna went as far west as she could go to get away from Mama.”

The play follows Mama through her experiences in Europe and Russia and the loss of 85 family members in the Holocaust, plunging her into a depression that plagued her all her life. Regina’s fragile emotional state drove away her daughter from the age of 16 until adulthood when Anna became her caregiver.

The second half of the play covers the five years of caregiving before Mama’s passing and the reconciliation of mother and daughter.

Award-winning clarinetist Chester Howard stands upstage playing klezmer and Jewish folk music throughout.

“There’s a wonderful moment when Odette as Anna is visiting Mama in the hospital, and Mama says, ‘How is it possible that I, Regina Sowa, daughter, niece, cousin, granddaughter, aunt of so many, should be here all alone in this hospital bed with only you, Anna, for company?’

“When it happened in real life, it was the first time I realized those 85 people had flesh and blood and they are my loss, not just Mama’s. Suddenly, in that hospital room, I felt abandoned.”

Meanwhile, the audience is overwhelmed emotionally by the play’s end with the showing of real photos of the lost 85, pictures sent out of Europe to relatives in Argentina and Chicago and recovered by the Fuerstenbergs after the war.

Anna Fuerstenberg was born in a refugee camp in Stuttgart and arrived in Montreal at the age of almost five. After winning a scholarship to the Montreal Repertory Theatre School at eight, she was on her way to a career in theatre as an actor, seen recently at Centaur Theatre in Nora Ephron’s Love, Loss and What I Wore, and as a published playwright, short story writer and poet.

“Having one of my plays done in this city, directed by me in French is my dream. It doesn’t get better than this,” says Fuerstenberg.

Get tickets here.