Queen of Chesed world premiere

New play about selfless Feigie Jacobson attracts a full house at Théâtre Outremont

By Byron Toben

The Hebrew word chesed translates, I am informed, as “loving kindness”.

In Brooklyn’s Crown Point district, which harbours many orthodox Jewish residents, one selfless person, Feigie Jacobson, in an exemplar of this attribute. As if having nine children was not enough, this selfless lady converted the lower floor of her two-story house into a drop in centre for homeless people. She also fed them and did their laundry.
This attracted the attention of a reporter for the New York Daily News Link here and the attention of two Montreal ladies – novice playwrights Claudia Litvak-Polachek and Pearl Rothenberg.

Some brief “dramaturgical consults” with established playwrights Alexandria Haber and Ned Cox helped focus the script somewhat.

Then entered publicist par excellence Barbara Ford and award winning actress Ellen David to not only play Feigie, but to direct the experienced but mostly community theatre cast.

Queen of Chesed - WestmountMag.ca

Besides Ms. David, two other Equity actors in the show were Sam Stein, a stalwart of Yiddish productions at the Segal, who portrayed Feigie’s husband, and Liz MacRae, as the journalist.

The publicity from the news article led to claims from the city for technical violations of not having permits of around $30,000. Despite donations from strangers, I am informed these have since ballooned to $60,000.

Notable among the eight amateur actors were Fishel Goldig, a holocaust survivor, as Charlie, a homeless man found sleeping under the Brooklyn Bridge, until he became a regular at the shelter and Evy Solomon as a homeless woman who thinks that she is the famous Broadway star, Ethel Merman. This allows the presentation to leaven its bits with some peppy show tunes.

The play is very episodic, with many quick black outs, suggesting it might be suited to a TV version.

Queen of Chesed - WestmountMag.ca

I attended the opening night of its short two-day run and was amazed to find that this new play was sold out despite the Theatre Outremont’s 775-seat capacity. Ms. Ford is really good at her specialty.

The play is very episodic, with many quick black outs, suggesting it might be suited to a TV version. I also felt that Feigie arrived on stage fully blown as a sort of Mother Theresa, but with more humour. Some description of how she first came to this calling might help if it doesn’t add too much to the 90-minute length.

Rumour hath it that the Litvak-Polachek/Rothenberg team of Labyrinth Stage Productions may be working on a second play set in the Plateau.

Queen of Chesed played at Theatre Outremont on November 15 and 16.

Labyrinth Stage Productions
514 895-7769

Bouton S'inscrire à l'infolettre – WestmountMag.ca
Images: James St Laurent
Read also: Bad Jews make good theatre in re-run

Byron Toben is the immediate past-president of the Montreal Press Club.


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