By James Keller
Addiction. Few people are given any kind of window through which to see the tragedy and loss it can bring. Alberta Theatre Project’s Zadie’s Shoes has built such a window in arguably ATP’s best production this season, full of raw emotion and painfully witty humour.
Ben’s grandfather, Zadie, lost his shoes to a straight flush in a poker hand. With bare feet and the “curse” of addiction still heavy on his shoulders, he came to Canada and started a family. Two generations later, his grandson is still battling with this affliction, and loses the money his girlfriend Ruth needs to fly to Mexico for alternative cancer treatment.
“The play comes out with a lot of issues about loving yourself before you can give to others, and I look for that all the time,” says Dmitry Chepovotsky, relating the themes in the play to his own life. “Every character is identifiable to somebody, because although the central story is about addiction, every character goes through a rite of passage. They are all archetypes for a lot of different people.”
Ben’s downfall and struggle to prevail is echoed by everyone around him. Ruth is dealing with potentially fatal cancer, and is dealing with her family’s reaction to her going to Mexico. Ruth’s sister Beth places similar faith in her professional curling career, only to see that over-commitment intrude on her personal life. And Ben’s friend Bear is recovering from more severe addiction, and his battle is seen in every scene.
More predominantly, however, is Ben’s struggle with himself and his Jewish faith. His stroke of bad luck sees him visiting the synagogue for the first time since his childhood, and receiving a horse tip from an unlikely source: an aging Rabbi.
“It’s one part of a theme for Ben but specifically for me personally, because it seems I only try to maintain high holidays,” Chepovotsky says, referring to Ben’s lack of commitment to his faith. “But the story reinstalls ideas of faith and spirituality and believing in something that you might not think about.”
While the play deals with the serious issues of addiction, faith and illness, it is also strikingly hilarious. Every serious theme is lightened with comedy, carried by believable characters played with very natural acting, which is the true charm of Zadie’s Shoes.
Making light of these serious issues personalizes the issues, and humanizes sometimes-overwhelming tragedy.
“It’s very funny and it’s really amazing watching because it’s so neat to see where the show lives and breathes and see how people react,” he says. “And they’re loving it.”