Bolsheviki: Long-term memories

Long-term memories

Acclaimed actor Robert King taps into his Verdun roots in Bolsheviki

David Fennario and Guy Sprung put remembering back into Remembrance Day with Bolsheviki

If there’s one holiday that has yet to be exploited by the interests of consumerism, it’s Remembrance Day. The downside of that is how easily the unsellable falls off the popular radar. Guy Sprung, director of Infinitheatre’s Bolsheviki, a play written by David Fennario about the futility of war and its untold stories of revolution, has taken to calling November 11 "Forgetting Day."

"It’s a play that I hope will get people talking," says Sprung. "It’s pretty gutsy, in terms of equating World War I with what’s going on in the world today."

Bolsheviki‘s viewpoint is straight from the trenches of World War I, between 1914 and 1917, but also takes place on Remembrance Day in 1978 and in the present day. Much more than a historical account or memoir, the play is a bold commentary on how we understand war, in its past and present incarnations.

Of Remembrance Day itself, Sprung says, "It’s very difficult because we remember those who died, yet now the day tends to be a celebration of war itself – instead of asking ourselves why the wars happened and saying let’s not do this again, it’s become a PR campaign to celebrate war and get our guys out there again to die."

Fennario, a long-time supporter of war resistors and the increasing population of veterans who distrust new government policies on veterans’ affairs and military actions, had asked himself what else he could do against the war in Afghanistan. While Bolsheviki has dynamically evolved over the past year, the inspiration for Pointe-St-Charles-born and -raised Harry "Rosie" Rollins, one of the play’s several characters – all of whom are played by the commanding Stratford actor Robert King, here accessing his Verdun roots – came from Fennario’s 1978 encounter with a WWI veteran who’d turned not only anti-capitalist but Bolshevik by the war’s end. "This play is a dangerous weapon against everything that war in Afghanistan stands for," says Fennario, "because this play is so fucking entertaining."

Rosie is both awful and hilarious, says Fennario: "He takes a piss on Vimy Ridge and you laugh about it." While Canadian theatre has certainly portrayed the nation at war before, Bolsheviki‘s perspective on the First World War, especially its often mutinous, revolutionary final days, is unique, even among the history books. "It’s really from the bottom up," says Fennario, "from guys who were peacekeeping and who killed their own officers and scared their own government so much that it had to stop the war."


At Bain St-Michel (5300 St-Dominique), Nov. 11 to Dec. 5

See for showtimes in English and French

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