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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

Rootless Cosmopolitans (Monstrous Theatre), at Chapel Off Chapel - 85 minutes, without interval

Being identifiable as Jewish today is more fraught than at any time since the Holocaust.


Since the October 7 Hamas terrorist attacks on Israel, the growing tide of antisemitism has been relentless.


That is why Ron Elisha’s thought-provoking work could not be more relevant or timely.


Many words are spoken in Rootless Cosmopolitans, at the heart of which is blatant discrimination.

Photos by Gavin D. Andrew

The first 20 minutes is light-hearted, exploring the relationship between a self-assured Jewish son who married out and his mother.


But then the tide turns on a dime, so to speak.


To the story proper then.


Ira Brot’s (Anton Berezin) typical Jewish mamma, Freda (Babs McMillan), has just died, but she lives on in his head, as he navigates the ensuing three years.


When he was 18, Ira met a Catholic girl, Glenda (Emily Joy), by the side of a road. They were married two years later. That was 16 years ago.

Even though she was intent on converting to Judaism, his mother never accepted her.


As far as Ira’s career is concerned, for the past five years and 10 months he has been the artistic director of a theatre company.


In that time, he has managed to elevate the community standing of the organisation.


Among his employees is 22-year-old Georgia Park (Seon Williams), who is gay and of Asian extraction and so ticks the diversity box.


He appointed her assistant director on the say so of the board’s chair, Viola Lansbury (Emily Joy again), whom Georgia had known for considerable time.

Ira is now mentoring Georgia, although for the most part she is, in fact, tasked with handling jobs he doesn’t want to tackle.


She alerts him to vile, anti-Jewish posts on social media.


His response incurs Viola’s ire and, as a result, his fortunes dive and his fate is sealed.


There is no shortage of humour in Rootless Cosmopolitans, drawn from interactions between mother and son liberally peppered throughout the piece. The quick quips are plentiful.


Be that as it may, Elisha has provided a distressing insight into the here and now.

The performances are impactful.


Anton Berezin plays Ira as strong-willed and combative, but also vulnerable.


A ruthless and manipulative streak runs through the play in the form of Viola’s self-serving wheeling and dealing.


Emily Joy is adept at assuming both that role and that of a dutiful and responsible wife.


Georgia Park grows up fast when she is presented with a moral quandary. As such, Seon Williams transitions her character well as the power balance shifts.

Babs McMillan revels in her representation of a Jewish mother whose expectations of her son haven’t been realised. Time and again, she is not afraid to tell him so.


Elisha has showered the production with numerous Jewish references. Underlying it, is the continued relevance of the Holocaust.


The term “rootless cosmopolitans” was coined in the early 19th century by a Russian literary critic.


It was a pejorative epithet, which referred mostly to Jewish intellectuals accused of a lack of allegiance to the Soviet Union.


While the play unfolds in dramatic fashion, with a number of surprises thrown in along the way, it doesn’t pretend to offer solutions on offensive group think.

Again, isn’t that a reflection on just what is happening globally?


What is the answer to hate … when the mere presence of someone by virtue of their religion is affronting to many? How do you educate those that won’t listen? Food for further thought.


Directed by Suzanne Heywood, Rootless Cosmopolitans – which runs for 85 minutes without interval – raises those important issues.

It is playing at Chapel Off Chapel until 2nd June, 2024.


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