Melbourne identity Rachel Berger is known more for her standup comedy than her theatrical work, but she’s changing that reputation with her solo show Hold the Pickle. First performed in June 2008 at La Mama and winning a swag of awards, she is bringing it back for an extended run in the more spacious Chapel Off Chapel theatre. It’s a great show – bittersweet, fully engrossing and despite its serious subject matter, surprisingly funny.
With minimal set and props, Berger plays both her mother and father, as well as herself. Polish Jews who lived in hiding from the Nazis and eventually immigrated to Israel and finally Australia via Czechoslovakia, Austria, Germany and France, the Berger family story is nothing short of harrowing. Berger’s delivery of it is honest and smoothly tied together. From her parents living in hiding in a cupboard in Nazi-occupied Poland, to an alienating life in the ethnically diverse Western suburb of Spotswood to finally finding her tribe in Acland Street, St. Kilda where her parents opened a deli overflowing with sausages and European delights, Berger never loses her audience.
From beginning to end, she has us eating out of the palm of her hand, and considering that food is a major theme in her story, that’s an especially good thing. Even though tinged with sadness, her anecdotes have a humourous edge – her amputee father’s return to function through some clever planning by her mother, the depictions of her Anglo neighbors in Spotswood – all fairy bread wrapped in colourful wax paper and Chardonnay-swilling housewives, and winning over her bullies with stolen lollies. It’s in the final section, when the Berger family settles in St Kilda that the Jewish personalities especially emerge – the gossipy grandmas, the old men hanging out in Acland Street eating sandwiches and the tireless shopkeepers and workers of the neighborhood. It’s a familiar evocation and Berger handles it with aplomb.
You don’t have to know your schnitzel from your borscht to get swept up in this family saga. It has similarities to many immigration experiences and has a very human, very inclusive feel. What works so well about Hold the Pickle is Berger’s ability to warmly bring her audience into her narrative, beautifully inhabit the crazy characters of her childhood and tie all the elements of her stories together into a satisfying theatrical experience. There’s no smoke and mirrors here – just good ole fashioned story telling that communicates to Jews and non-Jews alike. Take your Bubbe, take your Zayde – and take lots of tissues – catch it while you still can.
Hold The Pickle
Venue: Chapel Off Chapel - 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran
Dates: June 9 - June 21
Times: Tues to Sat 8.00pm & Sun 6.00pm
Tickets: $35 Full, $25 Con and Grps 10+ (+ transaction fee)
Bookings: 8290 7000 or www.chapeloffchapel.com.au