REMNANTS: Cast interview, Langley Times
Joseph’s story retold as Depression-era tale TWU, Pacific Theatre co-production explores anti-Semitism and xenophobia in Canadian context
by Brenda Anderson
Langley Times, May 11 2007
A classic Bible story has been transplanted 3,000 years and a continent away from its roots — but its message fits as well in the context of pre-Second World War Canada as it did in ancient Egypt.
Remnants (A Fable), retells the Old Testament story of Joseph, who was sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers, only to rise — by virtue of his prophetic dreams — to a place of prominence in the Pharaoh’s palace.
Written by Canadian playwright Jason Sherman, the drama traces a young man’s journey from a Polish shtetl (town) to the work camps of Depression-era Canada.
But as the character Joseph rises to the position of advisor to Prime Minister Mackenzie King he is sent to turn back a boatload of European Jews seeking refuge from the growing threat of Hitler’s Germany, only to discover his own brothers among the refugees.
The production is a joint effort by Trinity Western University’s theatre department and Vancouver’s Pacific Theatre.
As an ‘Emerging Artist Showcase,’ the play features up-and-coming actors, including third-year theatre and religious studies student Shay McCleary, who will play the role of a man in the gender-blind production.
Although there are several women in the cast of 12, there are no female characters in the play.
“It’s so much fun playing a man. I find my suspenders quite snappy,” says McCleary with a laugh.
Raised to behave in a ladylike manner, McCleary is having a riot dressing up in men’s suits and sitting comfortably, knees apart, like a man.
Speaking over the phone during a break in rehearsal at the Vancouver theatre, McCleary explains she was lured to TWU, “through a weird series of events.”
In her home town of New York City, McCleary got to know a number of Vancouverites who were there teaching in the public school system.
And during a visit to her then-boyfriend who was from Vancouver, she fell in love with the area.
She became a Biblical studies major before discovering TWU’s drama department, which was filled with “talented people doing good work.”
Having grown up in a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood in New York, McCleary was taken aback by what she discovered about her character during her research for Remnants.
“It was interesting for me, as a non-Canadian, playing Frederick C. Blair, the head of immigration in Canada during World War II,” she says.
“It was a bit of a history lesson.”
Blair’s (and Canada’s) stance on Jewish immigration prior to the outbreak of the Second World War and during the conflict itself is at the heart of Sherman’s play.
In the lead-up to war, as Jewish Europeans were frantically seeking a safe haven, Canada accepted between 4,000 and 5,000 immigrants from among that population.
During the war, the number dwindled to fewer than 500.
The U.S., by comparison, accepted more than 150,000 Jewish refugees and Mexico, between 15,000 and 20,000 over the same period.
McCleary, who has worked behind-the-scenes in a number of TWU theatre productions, and performed in the production As It Is In Heaven, welcomes the opportunity to join forces with up and coming actors from the Vancouver company.
A little concerned by the theatre’s unique layout at first, the actress is now having fun, she says, working in the space which features audience seating in front and behind the stage.
“I’ve heard it described as ‘theatre in the square’.
“I think we’ve always appreciated that we’ve had mild ties (with Pacific Theatre) because of (TWU instructor) Ron Reed,” she says of the collaboration.
“It’s a big deal to do a co-production for apprentices. It’s a great opportunity to gain work experience.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by fourth year TWU student Thomas Gage, who plays Joseph’s brother Simon in the production.
“I just wanted to be a part of it,” he says.
Gage describes his character as “a bit of a brute.
“He pushes Joseph around, but he has this amazing character arc at the end.”
Born in France to American parents, Gage lived in Nice until coming to Trinity Western.
He was looking for a school with a theatre department and had heard about the Langley university from friends.
“I’ve always had a passion for acting. I knew watching Star Wars as a kid it was what I wanted to do,” he says.
Gage did very little acting in France, but has performed in several productions since coming to Langley, including Taming of the Shrew and The Importance of Being Earnest.
In the fall, he will play the lead role of Thomas Mendip, a world-weary soldier seeking an end to it all, in The Lady’s Not For Burning.
Once his eductation is complete, Gage hopes to remain in the Lower Mainland to pursue a career in performing. Indie films appeal to him, he says, but ultimately, his goal is “to always be connected to theatre.
“To me, it’s the be-all, end-all.”
Remnants (A Fable)
Date: May 17-June 9
Wednesday to Saturday
Time: 8 p.m.
Saturday matinees 2 p.m.
Venue: Pacific Theatre
1440 W. 12 Ave. Vancouver