Hirsch is one of those soul-recharging nights that can happen anywhere but should happen, this play argues, every time you go to a theatre. That doesn’t mean the one-man show’s chronicle of the life of MTC founder and firebrand director John Hirsch is a paean of prosperity. Jewish, gay, refugee and uncompromising artist, Hirsch’s life is filled with burden and tempest. His abrasive devotion to a pure, humane art form despite all this damage makes him one of the most moving, textured Everyman characters to walk onto a Winnipeg stage in years.
Doubly bringing him to life is Alon Nashman, Hirsch’s playwright and performer. With director Paul Thompson, Nashman’s minimal selection of characters, voices, theatrical canon references and expressive devices fill the stage more than most large cast shows. The same wisdom that chooses not to explain Hirsch’s childhood loss except as a barely audible scream is at work in each scene, tightly exposing Hirsch’s creativity and cruelty (often in the same line), sharing the author’s wonder at his anti-hero and pushing the crowded theatre to participate in his tribute.
The audience’s awkwardness at having their protective fourth wall broken, at being confronted with a grown man’s make believing, loses its grip in minutes. You could blame Nashman’s emotionally articulate, crafted but honest performance. Or you could blame the thesis Hirsch and Hirsch’s life offer: existence is richer when we play. Both are winners.
Hirsch is a beautifully written love letter – to John Hirsch, to theatre and, unabashedly, to Winnipeg. And it is its own answer to a call for excellence.
By Alon Nashman and Paul Thompson
Tom Hendry Stage (RMTC Warehouse)
Through December 14
Directed by Paul Thompson; with Alon Nashman; set and costume design by Gillian Gallow; lighting design by Itai Erdal; sound design by Verne Good; dramaturgy by Bob White; research assisted by Casey Shapira; stage managed by Lisa Nelson; apprentice stage managed by Suzie Martin.
Matthew TenBruggencate is a Winnipeg-based writer. He is owned by two cats. Follow him @tenbruggencate, where is he spreading nasty rumours about you.