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Ori Black in Forever Young A Ghetto Story by Darrah Teitel directed by Sarah Kitz. Photo by Curtis Perry.

Forever Young: A Ghetto Story at GCTC highlights the hope and joy of solidarity

By Sonya Gankina on November 8, 2022

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This Thursday marks the opening night of the world premiere of Forever Young: A Ghetto Story, a play written by Darrah Teitel and directed by Sarah Kitz of the Great Canadian Theatre Company (GCTC). The performance opens on the 84th anniversary of Kristallnacht, The Night of Broken Glass, which marked a series of violent anti-Jewish pogroms in November of 1938. We spoke with the playwright and learned to expect beautiful hope from the performance.

Forever Young: A Ghetto Story follows a group of youths in a Jewish ghetto at the height of the Second World War, who plot what will become known as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, “one of the most significant occurrences in the history of the Jewish people,” according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. While the play undoubtedly addresses themes of antisemitism, oppression, and death, Teitel wants to emphasize that the performance is sharp in its humour, highlighting the joy of youth solidarity. And while the performance is still so relevant today, with antisemitic themes heartbreakingly resurfacing on social media and in the real world, the playwright is careful to not instil a sense of doom and gloom and instead focus on the brilliance of unity.

Ori Black and Brittany Kay in Forever Young A Ghetto Story by Darrah Teitel directed by Sarah Kitz. Photo by Curtis Perry.

“On the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, I got the idea to write this play,” says Teitel. “I read articles and realized how young they were. At the time, there were numerous youth movements and uprisings around the world, climate strikes being one of them. Young people were and are convincing leaders that the status quo would not hold any longer—this is an interesting territory to write a play in that would resonate today. Then the pandemic happened, and it became very important to me to write a play about the hope and joy of solidarity, fun, and brilliance and beauty there is in youth activism. The play is very funny and joyful, in spite of being Holocaust fiction. These are teenagers stuck in a room, at times terrified and bored; people can still relate to that today.”

Darrah Teitel is a socialist activist and labour organizer. She was the Playwright-in-Residence at GCTC from 2015–2017 and graduated from the University of Toronto and the National Theatre School of Canada. She is known for her plays Behaviour and The Apology, earning multiple awards such as the 2011 Canadian Jewish Playwriting Award and multiple nominations for Dora, Betty Mitchell, Rideau, and META Prizes for Outstanding New Plays.

Darrah Teitel. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Teitel was inspired by how humanity comes together and relies on one another in the face of hopelessness. She wrote the play after having her second child and securing a family residency at the University of California, Berkeley, where she did the writing. But the director of the play, Sarah Kitz, came into the picture long before the residency: “We were teenagers together,” says Teitel. “She was the first person I sent the draft to. We had a coffee and I was thinking of her to collaborate with on the show, and it all came together when Sarah became the Artistic Director at GCTC.”

I ask Teitel about her personal connection to activism and translating that to the stage, along with portraying such a significant event: “It’s just characters, right? No matter how small or big someone’s mark on history is, it’s people at the heart of it,” she says. “They are whole and flawed, they don’t know if they are doing the right thing or the wrong thing. As young activists, we don’t know which match will light the whole haystack on fire. Most of the time, the fire doesn’t kindle and you feel hopeless, but one day the fire lights and whole movements are born. These young people had no idea. They knew they were going to die and they knew what they were doing was about the legacy they were leaving after their deaths. It’s not a hopeless play.”

The marriage of difficult subject matter and humour is one that Teitel has been criticized for before, with critics speculating that audiences were surprised and uncomfortable during the performances. But culture is an important caveat. “There is no way to make what happened any less tragic or infuriating. But when I approach difficult subject matter, I use humour. It’s a very specific Jewish cadence and tone. Jews have always been laughing in the face of death and hopelessness. Yiddish—the language of the characters in the play—is one of the most sarcastic languages. So from my childhood and my family, the tone seems natural and normal for me. I don’t think it’s inappropriate at all for a play about the Holocaust and young people to be funny. I push against the artistic culture in Canada, which is very rooted in the white Anglo-Saxon culture. It’s not the voices I hear in my head. The critiques of the tone of my plays throughout my career have been very culturally skewed, in my opinion. I’m not trying to recreate the truth or a historical text but to speak through my third-generation voice and perspective to the community, time and place in which I live. I do feel the sacredness of the story I am telling in my bones, however irrelevant and contemporary the play sounds. ”

Teitel reminds us that in times of human history when people are staring down hopelessness, they always find beauty, levity, and solidarity in action. It’s an instruction to come together in our communities and to find the source of power when you join forces with others.


Forever Young: A Ghetto Story runs from November 8–20 at GCTC. Tickets can be purchased here

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