From Shiva to Showtime: In Seven Days and the snapshot of a life well-lived
Header: The cast of In Seven Days and Director, Philip Akin. Photo by Dahlia Katz.
In a large, cavernous gallery space in North York, playwright Jordi Mand chats with director Philip Akin just a few feet from a dining room table. A photographer and videographer are meticulously adjusting their lights. The table is dressed with a tablecloth (the kind that looks like it belonged to more than one generation of home-maker), and a comically-large quantity of bagels.
The Playwright of In Seven Days, Jordi Mand and Director, Philip Akin. Photo credit: Dahlia Katz.
At the table, the cast of the Grand Theatre and Toronto’s Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company co-production of a brand-new play—In Seven Days—are arranged for a “family photo”. An actor playing a patriarch, seated, wears pyjamas, and smiles sweetly forward. An actor playing his girlfriend hugs him from behind; she is beaming with joy. The expressions of the other 3 figures tell a far less rosy tale. The Rabbi looks stoic, yet conflicted. A young, stylishly-dressed man stares wide-eyed into the camera, as if wordlessly asking it for instructions on how to proceed. And a young woman, arranged centrally in the photograph, appears as though she has just heard the worst news of her life a moment before the shutter snapped its fateful portrait.
“I think we got it!” a Grand staff-person says, and the scene is re-set for another series of photos.
The cast of In Seven Days. Photo credit: Dahlia Katz.
The photos are intended to convey a story that is equal parts comical and devastating: a story about a daughter who learns of her father’s decision to end his life via Medical Assisted Death (MAID) in—you guessed it—seven days.
Dubbed by playwright, Jordi Mand, whose family resides in London, Ontario (and where she has chosen to set the events of the show) as “a comedy about death, not a drama about death that’s funny,” one has to wonder: where does the inspiration to create a (generally) comedic family play about MAID come from?
The inspiration came from Mand’s parents when they moved to London, Ontario ten years ago.
“When my parents joined the reformed synagogue here in London, my dad reconnected with his childhood best friend, whom he had lost touch with. This friend was very ill, and he qualified for Medical Assisted Death,” explains Mand. “Because [MAID] is a hot and contentious issue, especially in Judaism, everybody had all kinds of opinions, and I was so fascinated by how the whole thing played out, that it became the jumping off point for the play.”
Shaina Silver-Baird. Photo credit: Dahlia Katz.
In Seven Days – which premieres at the Grand Theatre in February – is the story of how a daughter (Rachel, played by Shaina Silver-Baird) learns to say goodbye to an ailing parent, and the story of how a parent (Sam, played by Ron Lea) learns to do what’s right for them. The sequences in between feature the associated joys, humour, tearful bargaining, and bouts of honesty that serve as markers of any life well-lived. And in this case, they all happen within the span of a 90-minute, one-act show on the Grand Theatre’s Spriet Stage.
“I didn’t set out to specifically write a play about Medical Assisted Death, but because of all of the things that topic brings up for all of the characters, it ended up being the perfect vehicle to explore what happens when we really need to fight for the relationships we have in our life, and also fight for the decisions that we’ve made,” says Mand.
As for the comedy sprinkled throughout (like seeds, perhaps)? Those can be attributed to the interpersonal dynamics at the heart of any great family comedy, as well as the more specific cultural nuances that come from the Mand’s own life: “I made this a Jewish play, because I’m Jewish, and the topic of Medical Assisted Death is such a contentious topic within the community.”
Mairi Babb, Ron Lea, and Shaina Silver-Baird. Photo credit: Dahlia Katz.
Another contentious topic? “Bagels are a very divisive topic within my community,” laughs Mand, who begins the play with a hilarious debate about the merits of sesame vs. poppyseed bagels, “As contentious of a topic as MAID is, bagels are equally contentious. It’s just hot topic, after hot topic!”
Crowded around the bagel-strewn table at the photoshoot, the multi-talented ensemble of In Seven Days playfully bickers, improvising the motions of an animated family dinner, squabbling amidst ruins of bagels, and providing the picture of an infectious ensemble dynamic. Dynamics that audiences will undoubtedly appreciate in the wake of the play’s more poignant moments.
In Seven Days plays February 13 to March 2 on the Spriet Stage and will continue in Toronto with a run at the Greenwin Theatre – Meridian Arts Centre presented by Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company. For more information, and for tickets, visit grandtheatre.com/event/in-seven-days