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The Crack Magazine

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The Death & Life of All of Us at Alphabetti Theatre

Like most Jews, Victor Esses clearly knows that the tracing of one’s own family history can be harrowing, confusing and empowering all at the same time.

In this one-man show, he explores the eclectic life of his great aunt Marcelle, who emigrated from Lebanon, converted to Christianity, and thereafter hid her Jewish roots. The performance is as fractured as the story it tells, a mixture of monologue, dance, and videos Esses took of Marcelle when he first met her aged nineteen. A frail and forgetful golf club president living in an upscale Italian neighbourhood, the elderly Marcelle acknowledges her Jewishness for the first time in decades, having hidden it even from her own children.

As Esses explores her history with compassion and gentleness, he also begins to reveal some of his own. As a queer youth in an insular community, he struggled with both his sexuality and his faith. It’s difficult not to notice the parallels between Esses’s own journey and that of Marcelle - both felt the need to keep their identities a secret, and both of these identities are now proudly revealed.

The small, intimate setting of the Alphabetti theatre is the perfect venue for this story to be told. Esses can address the audience directly, asking us questions as lighthearted as “Have you ever eaten shellfish? This one’s for the Jews,” and as poignant as “Have you ever made a decision that you thought would change everything, only to end up exactly where you started?”

The narrative is incomplete, as Marcelle left so many questions unanswered before she passed away. But Esses doesn’t try to iron out these complexities, instead allowing us to see Marcelle as the multifaceted person she was, and what a great effect she had on him.

Sid Purvis

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