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Soulpepper has done it again.
The theatre company who have thrilled us with shows like Spoon River and Of Human Bondage have knocked it out of the park with The Dybbuk, which opened at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts on Thursday night.
If you’ve been entertaining doubts that a new adaptation of a century old Yiddish drama about an evil spirit possessing the body of a young bride could make for exciting theatre, then lay them to rest.
Thanks to the clarity of Anton Piatigorsky’s script, the invention of Albert Schultz’s direction and the yeoman work of every last actor, musician and designer involved with the project, The Dybbuk is the most exciting, thought-provoking and morally challenging show you’re likely to see in Toronto this year.
In a small Russian town where fear fuels the populace more strongly than oxygen, strange things are happening. A young yeshiva student suddenly dies for no apparent reason, a young bride-to-be spends an increasing amount of time in the graveyard and everyone is somehow filled with a sense of impending doom.
Alex Poch-Goldin’s hovering father, Hailey Gillis’s edgy bride and Diego Matamoros’s unsettling Stranger are among the leading figures who bring us on our journey, but quite frankly, all members of the large company do their part in the saga.
We know that a dybbuk, or demonic spirit, is at loose in this world, but the question now becomes a moral and philosophical one: why did this happen and how can it be stopped?
William Webster takes centre stage with one of his finest performances as the revered, but somehow tentative, Rabbi Azriel. Full of inner conviction, yet somehow riddled by existential doubts, Webster strides into battle with the demon and along the way uncovers the cause of the spiritual malaise that has brought us all here. It’s a spiritual thriller, but a fascinating one.
Everything merges together superbly in the play’s final scene, where Piatigorsky’s writing, Schultz’s staging and Beecher’s lighting join with the performances of Gillis, Palangio and Webster to create images and moments of magic which can’t truly be described but must be experienced.