Presented by Salt Theatre
An hour before she’s to give her perfect Bat Mitzvah speech, Abigail’s rabbi sends her spiralling when she critiques its content and craft. A Torah passage about the Red heifer has ideas of purity and sacrifice swirling through her brain. Add pre-performance nerves, hormones, religious and social pressures, the quickly dwindling time to prepare—and we’ve got a potent, neurotic stew.
The Bad Mitzvah serves us that stew and it’s a blast.
All the women in her life have a stake in this speech and, ultimately, her symbolic transformation from girl to woman. Some are family, some have come crashing into her space without warning. There are no wasted characters here, but some interpersonal dynamics stood out to me as particularly compelling.
It’s fascinating to watch Rabbi Dina (Miranda Wiseman), as an authority figure, get catty and defensive with someone she should be providing an example to. Her best friend Vivian is a flamboyant Adolescent Life Coach (it’ll catch on!) and isi bhakhomen really knocked the wind out of me with her brash, supportive enthusiasm. Her gentile mother—played with an offbeat, precarious vulnerability by Frosina Pejcinovska—is a hot mess and their interactions are fraught with an accumulation of miniature traumas.
A number of colourful surprises come bounding into Abigail’s private sphere and I certainly won’t spoil them. Without revealing too much, I want to shout out Nezar El-Rayes’ truly endearing Nathaniel. Primed for his Bar Mitzbah on the same day, he seems, at first, to be your typical horny 13-year-old boy; but as their awkward and hilarious encounter escalates, we discover a deep well of empathy and awareness.
Abigail is our pole star in this wacky thematic whirlwind of eccentricity. Scrambling for purchase in a situation that seems to be expanding and contracting around her, Stephanie Zeit is a funny and riveting focal point. Zeit also penned this script with Brad Gira and Ahlam Hassan.
The involvement of Gira and director William Dao is what first drew me to this show. Their work on last year’s The Boy Who Cried was a major highlight of my 2022 Toronto Fringe experience.
On the subject of Dao’s direction, let’s get into the weeds on the off-kilter spatial awareness of this production. The geography of the room seems pretty conventional at first, though as the wacky antics progress, the actual layout of the space becomes hard to define. People hide in and throw their voice from pockets of the stage that seem to have no relation to the supposedly real environment they’re inhabiting. This does not, however, disrupt the immersion—not even for those obsessed (ahem) with theatrical consistency; it expands Abigail’s amorphous headspace out into the environment itself.
But enough navel-gazing from me, The Bad Mitzvah is a giddy delight with thematic bombshells bursting all over the place.