Have you noticed how many theatre professionals think they have such compelling stories to tell? Heck, you just need to attend any Fringe Festival to bear witness to the ubiquitous auto-biographical one-person show. Rarely though are they as fascinating to the rest of us.
Fortunately for John Hirsch, his story comes courtesy of two other theatre professionals who, while having some personal connection to the man, have been able to distill his life without the ego that normally gets in the way. And while it at times suffers under the weight of a complex life, Hirsch is buoyed by Alon Nashman’s riveting performance.
A Hungarian orphan of the Holocaust, Hirsch spans the decades of growing up as a young man in search of a new country to his move to Winnipeg and the indelible imprint he made on Canadian culture through his work in theatre and television.
Nashman, who co-created the piece with Paul Thompson, fills the 90 minute show with so much of Hirsch’s life that it is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand it is rich with stories that highlight Hirsch’s reputation as both a theatrical visionary and bully, but on the other it rarely allows for any in-depth exploration of some of those stories. As an example, the revelation of Hirsch’s relationship with his longtime partner Brian comes so out of left field that we’re left wondering why that aspect of his life is not given more prominence. It is apparent that for many in the audience, no doubt other theatre professionals, Hirsch’s life is already well known, but for those with little or no knowledge, we are at times short-changed. But that then that is the problem with any bio-pic isn’t it? What to highlight, what to ignore and what do you leave an audience with so they want more?
Theatrically, Nashman gives a tremendous performance as Hirsch. From the reactions opening night is apparent his impersonation of the man is immediately identifiable as Hirsch, but more than that his energy sustains us through the 90 minutes, a feat that is particularly important during those passages where the exploration of Hirsch’s life may be more interesting to those that actually knew him.
The importance of John Hirsch on Canada’s cultural landscape is undeniable and worthy of this homage. I only wish it was a little more selective in exploring a life filled with such darkness and creativity.
Hirsch continues at the Firehall Arts Centre as part of the 2014 Chutzpah! Festival. Visit http://firehallartscentre.ca for tickets and information.