Joel Bernbaum and Kayvon Kelly explore friendship in My Rabbi. Photo by Derek Ford.
Joel Bernbaum and Kayvon Kelly explore friendship in My Rabbi. Photo by Derek Ford.

You couldn’t ask for better timing as the Firehall Art Centre’s season gets underway with My Rabbi, a show that puts a lens on the Middle East through the eyes of two Canadian friends.

[pullquote]My Rabbi’s exploration of the effect cultural heritage can have on a friendship takes on a special urgency right now given the headlines that continue to be made in the Middle East and, indeed, at home. We can learn a lot from Jacob and Arya Kelly and Burnbaum.[/pullquote]But these aren’t just any two fictionalized characters on opposite sides of the Muslim-Jewish divide, at least not entirely; these are real-life buddies Kayvon Kelly and Joel Burnbaum.

My Rabbi tells the story of Jacob and Arya, who like Kelly and Burnbaum have little connection to their ancestral homelands. Their easy friendship of womanizing and what outsiders would call culturally insensitive jokes (Jacob’s standard greeting for Arya is “durka durka” which is invariably met with a cheery “mazel tov, bitch”) is shattered as they make solo pilgrimages to Iran and Israel.

With the impetus to write the piece based on advice to “write what they know”, the friendship between the two likeable performers is strongest during those scenes before they make their individual trips to their homelands. Sometimes quite funny, their friendship is tempered by family dynamics where cultural identity is both frustrating and devastating. Kelly and Burnbaum make all of the pre-Middle East scenes inside their broken narrative ultimately believable.

As they begin to explore their cultural background from outside Canada though, the duo step outside of their comfort zone and at times seem to rely on a checklist of what a post-Middle East visit might look like to their friendship. While the end result is a somewhat uneven narrative as the piece jumps around in its timeline, as actors, Kelly and Burnbaum are still able to sell it.

My Rabbi’s exploration of the effect cultural heritage can have on a friendship takes on a special urgency right now given the headlines that continue to be made in the Middle East and, indeed, at home. We can learn a lot from Jacob and Arya Kelly and Burnbaum.  And while they both readily admit in our recent interview that they don’t have all the answers, fortunately they do have something to say.

My Rabbi written and performed by Joel Bernbaum and Kayvon Kelly.  Directed by Julie McIsaac.  A Firehall Arts Centre presentation of a Sum Theatre production.  On stage at the Firehall Arts Centre (280 East Cordova St) until October 18.  Visit http://firehallartscentre.ca for tickets and information.