An abortion doctor dies of a heart attack, leaving behind a wife and a grown-up daughter. About a year later, the wife, Abigail, an English literature teacher, starts going to synagogue, mostly because she likes the young rabbi.
In the opening scene of Haunted, a new drama that won a Canadian Jewish playwriting competition in 2011, Abby propositions the rabbi; David demurs. He makes a counter-offer: He is willing to pursue a serious courtship, one that could lead to marriage.
Not keen on accepting widow as a self-definition, Abby accepts the rabbi’s serious conversation as an antidote to grief and ageing. Abby is not haunted by the loss of her husband so much as she is perplexed and irritated by his sudden departure. He was respectable but adulterous.
It’s the daughter Sarah who is haunted. In a bedroom she shares with her new lesbian partner, Raina, the overwrought Sarah receives visits from her dead father. The unhinged Sarah has no confusion about her father’s worth; he is the dearly departed.
Having recovered from a failed marriage that made him a father, the rabbi must question his immersion in the lives of these three women. Sarah is not sure whether or not she should resent the rabbi’s abstaining romance with her mother and she rejects her partner Raina’s earnest entreaties for her to seek professional help. But the strongest emotional catharsis in Haunted arises when Sarah vehemently rejects her mother’s empathy, preferring petulance and accusatory rants.
The nature of grief is an unusual topic for a relatively young playwright such as Daniel Karasik to tackle, so one admires both the seriousness of the intent and the Chutzpah! Festival for hosting this premiere.
Kudos should go to director Katrina Dunn for her intelligent staging. Much of the dialogue in Haunted consists of fractured sentences, hesitancy, stammering. In one scene Sarah tells Raina their relationship is over, then proposes marriage about two minutes later. The audience quickly learns to gauge emotional states on stage as much by the distances between the characters as by their words.
It’s hard to provide consistent acting when the writing is so variable; frequently disjointed. Kerry Sandomirsky carries this play on her back as Abigail, providing realistic frisson; Patrick Sabongui is her convincing foil, steadfastly rabbinical.
Karasik has provided much less engaging conversation for the younger couple. Their bedroom scenes don’t resonate due to their physical distance from the audience and some kissing that is unconvincing, but Carmel Amit as Sarah Kayla Deorksen both have moments that shine at the kitchen table.
The resolve of Touchstone to showcase a new Canadian play that bites off more than an evolving playwright can chew is artistic bravado worthy of applause. It is hard to imagine a better rendering of this script; and it is easy to imagine a worse one.
-- Paul Durrus