A tasty addition to
ethnic community theatre
The Baklawa Recipe explores the female side of the Lebanese immigrant experience
By Byron Toben
In the beginning, theatre in North America was English or French, mostly imported from the two colonizing countries. Gradually, home grown talents emerged with other sensibilities, even if not writing explicitly about their national or ethnic communities.
Eugene O’Neill had an Irish sensibility, Arthur Miller, a Jewish one.
Here in Montreal, Vittorio Rossi developed Italian motif drama at the Centaur while credit must be given to Rahul Varma for introducing, first Indian subjects, and later, many other ethnicities, like Armenian, through his Teesri Duniya company.
Of course, the Segal Centre and its predecessor, the Sadye Bronfman Theatre, have always supported the Dora Wasserman Yiddish productions as well as giving space to other minorities.
The production was fortunate to secure the services of experienced director Emma Tibaldo…
Gradually, black playwrights emerged and more recently, Latin, and now Arabic, in the example of the current Centaur play, The Baklawa Recipe. Written by Pascale Rafie and performed in French, this is its English language premiere as translated by her half-sister Mellisa Bull.
The production was fortunate to secure the services of experienced director Emma Tibaldo who is head of both her Talisman Theatre and the Playwrights Workshop Montreal.
The show, starting in the 1950s, features two Lebanese immigrant mothers, Nadia (Christina Tannous) and Rita (Natalie Tannous) and their respective stage daughters Fanny (Anne-Marie Saheb) and Naima (Eleanor Noble).
All kinds of culture and generational clashes ensue over the years, but abetted, as with many communities, by bonding over meals, especially with the tasty desert, baklawa.
All kinds of culture and generational clashes ensue over the years, but abetted… by bonding over meals, especially with the tasty desert, baklawa.
The acting was excellent but what bothered me somewhat was the staging and background sound. I hate to mention these as both set and costume designer Eo Sharp and sound designer Peter Cerone have impeccable credits and I am a script kinda guy who usually ignores those aspects.
In particular, the set featured four tall open ended rectangular boxes, each housing one of the four actresses, who occasionally ventured out to, among other things, talk about making baklawa. While I am all for experimenting in theatre, this seemed too ‘cutesy’ for my taste. Also, much of the sound was an annoying buzz like a receiver left off the phone.
Maybe some of my pique was that no one in the audience was offered any baklawa bits as was all the audience in Antigone that I saw a few days later. For that matter, the cast of The Morning After… at the Centaur’s Wildside, offered wedding cake slices to the front row as part of the show. Just mentioning…
The characters here, obviously Christian Lebanese, had some cultural clashes, especially the women, but I assume it would be even greater today with Muslim Syrian refugees, even with generous government support.
But until the immigrants acclimate to the new society and after, what the Yiddish word Haimishe values, oft table based, is to keep life endearing.
The Baklawa Recipe continues at the Centaur until February 18.
Read also: Greek princess cannot be buried away