The Beat Review

Reviwed by Renee Silberman, October 7, 2009


Dateline New York – London’s own versatile writer/actor Robyn Israel, hit the boards Big-Apple style, Off-Off-Broadway last night with her prize-winning, one-woman show, Jewish Girls Don’t Kayak and we are basking in the glory of her achievement.

Poignant insight interwoven with quicksilver wit lit up Israel’s audience, as the tale of self-discovery unfolded. New Yorkers readily identified with the shtick, an outpouring of yearning and insight familiar to anyone capable of finding the humour in life’s complexities.

Israel made an easy transition from the familiar setting of a London stage to the ambitious New York theatre scene. Her poise never abandoned her as she vindicated her belief that her play was suited to the world “out there.” The subjects Israel touched on resonated with the audience, both those who knew the Jewish quarter of Montreal, and those whose frames of reference did not include anything of the Canadian background of the play. In post-play conversation, Israel elaborated on her life and theatrical experiences and was especially amusing on the topic of crossing the Canadian-U.S. border where the authorities were not charmed by the universality of dramatic experience.

Stage Left Studio, ‘The most beautiful little theatre in NYC,’ is the brainchild of Cheryl King, a producer, director and performer who brings experimental works into her clever, intimate setting. As a member of the Dramatist’s Guild, she is well-placed to bring performers new to the New York scene to the attention of an ever-hungry stage-loving public. King presented Jewish Girls Don’t Kayak in The Women at Work Festival. This showcase performance afforded Israel a great moment Off-Off-Broadway. She has every justification to feel stage struck, and we who follow her career have every reason to feel star-struck!


Theatre in London review

Reviewed by Kenneth Chisholm, March 27, 2009

Written and performed by Robyn Israel
Directed by Peter Busby

The Arts Project Theatre
March 24–28, 2009

In one manner of thinking, being Jewish can be as much like kayaking as fiddling on a roof. It requires a sense of balance to work through the rapids and having the strength to right yourself when your world has turned upside down as you proceed to your destination. This play is an amusing and intriguing look at religion, identity and relationships as one Jewish woman tells her story of her own journey through those realities.

In retrospect, watching this play again after My Name Is Rachel Corrie was a good idea. Whereas the former play is in part about a nominally Christian woman coming to Palestine, this one is about a Jewish-Canadian woman with her own experiences here. To that end, we are treated to an inspired monologue of the power of names and identity as evidenced by Ms. Israel’s surname, imposed on her immigrating grandfather by a bossy immigration agent who couldn’t be bothered to attempt to properly spell his name.

The play then moves on to the conflicts of prejudices and Jewish culture from both Robyn’s traditionalist mother and her gentile boyfriends who range from the honestly open minded, like one Buddhist man, to a dyslexic redneck biker who posted on the wrong online dating service. All the while, Israel approaches her stories with a well-balanced wit and insight that illustrates the realities of Jewish life with revealing eloquence.

To that end, Robyn Israel creates a vivid variety of characters using only a few props at most to carry the act. The finest example of this is her parents, with her mother being a classic kvetching mother with old-world attitudes that struggle to understand the modern world of her daughter while Robyn’s father is a easygoing soul who effortlessly undermines his wife’s bossiness with a laconic wit.

However, while the update and expansion of the play does modernize it in welcome ways, it is not flawless in some aspects. This includes trivial concerns like her not updating her joke complaint there are no Jewish female superheroines in comic books, when some quick research would have told her of such characters like Sabra, Fathom and Masada. More seriously is the thematic break she creates when she….[spoiler removed]. This dramatic misstep is not fatal to the play, but she does its theme no favours for that skewed perspective that creates a scene that’s more an overwrought lecture than drama.

Finally, I appreciate the minimalistic style of the play’s stagecraft that encourages the best imaginative performance for any actor. As such, Israel is able to smoothly shift from character to character with admirable ease with only a hat or a smock for instance. The hanging kayak is a special feature, an unavoidable symbol of Israel’s struggle of not just her own self identity, but her rebellion against stereotype through something so distinctively Canadian itself.

Being a woman who is an ethnic and/or religious minority can be challenge in any land, even in Canada. Robyn Israel has given a face and voice to that quiet struggle and created an entertaining play that just needs some research and a little more perspective.

London Free Press review

There’s lots in a name

August 5, 2007

What’s in a name? For Robyn Israel — it’s everything.

One of the best one-woman shows at London Fringe 2007, Jewish Girls Don’t Kayak is a cackle-filled personal view into Israel’s family life and how she came to have her eponymous surname.

Her comedic routine retells her experience, wading through stereotypes, culture clashing and racism.

Israel tells the story of when her grandfather wanted to come to Canada. She says he was met with a snarky immigration official who, not understanding her father’s thick accent when he spoke his real name, ignorantly dubbed him Morris Israel, a name that stuck through generations.

Israel tells us about struggles through her childhood wishing she had a more Anglo-saxon name, something like Anderson. She comically enlightens Fringers, proud to inform them that Judy Holiday’s real name was Judith Tuvim. She tells of her disappointment when Norman Jewison, director of 1971 film Fiddler on the Roof, wasn’t Jewish, as his name suggested, but Protestant.

With Yiddish references, Israel takes us on a path of self-learning: Her name, culture and her wacky yet lovable parents.

And while Israel mostly makes light of her experiences — the latent bigotry and family strain over finding a Jew to marry — she does hit her audience with painfully emotional material.

I held back a sniffle when Israel recalled the fire-bombing of her high school, its glass library shattered and books strewn. [… spoiler removed …]

Jewish Girls Don’t Kayak makes us all proud to preserve our own ethnic heritage while still being truly Canadian.