Actress Hannah Miller says Bar Mitzvah Boy asks the question “Why do bad things happen to good people?” and how does one keep faith and hope in adversity.
“What the audience will walk away with [from the play] is that there is no easy answer, but what we have as human beings walking upon this earth … is each other, and there is a lot of strength to be found there, in other people,”Miller says.
In Bar Mitzvah Boy, now running at Toronto’s Centre for the Arts until Dec. 2, Miller plays opposite actor Ralph Small who plays Joey, a successful lawyer in his 60s, who suddenly decides he needs a bar mitzvah. What starts as a simple item on his to-do list turns into a deep immersion in the necessity of faith, and the meaning behind the rituals.
“The play is about what happens when your faith is challenged,” Miller explains. “It is about facing adversity and negotiating faith through that. And, it is a story about a beautiful friendship that develops in the most unlikely place, in the community of a shul.”
Miller plays Michael, a community leader. “She is a mother, a worldly, compassionate, strong woman who is generous with her knowledge, her faith, her affection and her story. She’s honest. I look up to her in many ways, I think she’s certainly more patient than I will ever be. She’s accepting, open and understanding and she approaches difference with empathy and love.”
Miller says working alongside Small in the two-hander play has bonded them both on and off the stage because the play speaks to them, personally. The two are finding that they’re developing a friendship that mirrors the friendship that develops in the play.
Miller says that the relationship between Joey and her character includes some surprises that she is careful not to divulge.
Miller was born in England to Israeli parents. She was raised in Israel and came to Canada to pursue her acting career in 2005. She feels that there is a plethora of culture, stories and wisdom that she is able to access because she grew up with a mother who was a Bible scholar and teacher.
“Although we never treated it as a historical testament, the stories, the morals and the problems that society faces have always been very present in the household,” she shares. “So, in acting when I am investigating a relationship or a character, I often have this very rich well of reference.”
After a difficult immigration process, which Miller felt affected her career to different degrees, she feels privileged to be able to work here. Her theatre credits include The Crucible, and The Royal Comedians on film and TV in Dark Matter, Murdoch Mysteries and Saving Hope. Miller has lent her voice to projects in both English and Hebrew.
Married to an Italian chef, Christian, the couple have a daughter, named Lear, who is three-and-a-half. After Bar Mitzvah Boy, she will be performing in English and American Sign Language in The Prince Hamlet with Why Not Theatre in February at CanStage Berkley. Then, Miller is off to the Stratford Festival for the summer, performing in Birds of a Kind and Nathan the Wise.
The Toronto premiere of Bar Mitzvah Boy is presented by The Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company and directed by co-founder Avery Saltzman. Written by Mark Leiren-Young, this award-winning Canadian play, which originated in Vancouver, runs until Dec. 2, at The Greenwin Theatre, Toronto Centre
for the Arts. Tickets can be purchased by calling: 1-855-985-2787 or online at www.hgjewishtheatre.com