'Bobbie' by Trudee Romanek
A Canadian premiere now onstage at Theatre by the Bay, Barrie, Ontario
Credit: Khaleel Gandhi. Pictured: Olivia Daniels as Bobbie
An original Canadian play about the audacious tenacity of the female human spirit. ‘Bobbie’ marks an essential recognition of one woman’s contribution and value to the world of sport in this country.
A premiere production by local Barrie playwright Trudee Romanek, ‘Bobbie’ follows the story of Fanny ‘Bobbie’ Rosenfeld (Olivia Daniels), a Canadian sports icon. Her father, Max (Matthew Gorman) and mother, Sarah (Nadine Djoury), want only the best for their daughter, older brother, Maurice (Ori Black) and their younger siblings. The family flees from the violence and turmoil of Russian pogroms in 1904 to the safety of Barrie, Ontario. In Barrie, Bobbie develops her passion for sport and is thus nicknamed for her bobbed haircut. There are younger sisters in the Rosenfeld house, but they are unseen in this production. The family moves to Toronto, where Bobbie enrolls at Harbord Collegiate and trains further in sport.
However, the Rosenfelds’ arrival in Toronto details some horrible issues of anti-Semitism. One incident involves the father of one of Bobbie’s friends, Mr. Stewart, a newspaper editor. Despite these awful challenges, Bobbie became a 1928 Olympic Champion, representing Canada at the Amsterdam Games and winning Gold in the 4x100 Relay and Silver in the 100-yard dash. From 1937-1958, Bobbie became a Globe and Mail sports columnist advocating for women in sports. In 1949, Bobbie was the first woman inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. In 1985, she was inducted into the Barrie, Ontario, Sports Hall of Fame, and in 1996, Ontario’s Sports Hall of Fame.
Romanek’s story becomes a memory play. Her protagonist speaks to the audience in the present before delving into the past to explore how specific moments and memories she recalls have shaped the family's lives. Performers Gorman, Djoury, and Black play other individuals with quick costume changes either off-stage or at the side in the shadows.
The audience sits in a three-quarter round setting. Designer Logan Raju Cracknell, Props Master Lesley Coo and Projections Designer Khaleel Gandhi create striking visual images of onstage pictures. Cracknell’s functional and sturdy multi-level design of steps and crates allows each scene to transition smoothly from a Sabbath meal in the Rosenfeld kitchen to Max’s study. A large scrim at the back of the stage allows for Gandhi’s striking visual images to be projected – the Sabbath candles and the newspaper articles of Bobbie’s sports events are only two examples. Coo has been faithful in finding vintage props from the 1920s era. The typewriter used in Mr. Stewart’s office is only one example.
On the stage, two running track lanes are painted in a semi-circle at the front. They're cleverly used in the performance when Bobbie races. It is also in front of the stage where Bobbie speaks to the audience in the present. Tim Rodrigues’ lighting design warmly lights each scene on the multi-level set design. For example, there are two moments when Bobbie speaks to the audience for a couple of moments, and her spotlight is perfectly set. Selina Jia’s costume choices duly reflect the 1920s era.
There are moments in Romanek's script that sometimes brutally capture the struggles of the Rosenfelds as an immigrant/lower middle-class working family. One occurs when Maurice is beaten up by neighbourhood thugs slurring anti-Semitic comments against him. Yet, audibility and projection issues in both acts prevented me from hearing the dialogue consistently. The couple behind me also commented on it during the first act. A reminder to each of the four actors to be cognizant at all times of the audience sitting at far stage right and left. Since ‘Bobbie’ is a premiere, the audience wants to hear every word spoken.
Lynn Weintraub directs the production with a clear vision of wanting to show these credible individuals are survivors no matter what life has thrown at them. She also makes a choice to have performers Gorman, Djoury, and Black play minor individuals who are opposite in character of their roles in the Rosenfeld house. Solid performance work from these three contributes to the play’s impact of diligence and perseverance.
As Sarah, Nadine Djoury becomes that overprotective mother who doesn’t understand her daughter’s need to run and play sports. Instead, Sarah wants Bobbie to get married right out of school and start a family. There’s an inherent sense in Djoury’s performance why she is overprotective of her child. Sarah never wants her daughter (nor any of her children) to experience what she and her husband, Max, did overseas before they came to Canada. Djoury also plays Bobbie’s friend, Evelyn, whose father is the newspaper editor who wrote some disparaging comments about Max Rosenfeld in the paper. Unlike her father, Mr. Stewart, Djoury’s Evelyn becomes that strong familial female friend who encourages Bobbie to go out into the world and accomplish whatever she wants.
Matthew Gorman’s Max may be as overprotective of his children as his wife, Sarah. However, he does not make Max a stereotypical father in this respect . Instead, Gorman’s Max is savvy and recognizes that his daughter must face the world head-on if she consciously decides to become part of the sport world. Gorman imbues Max with quiet stoicism while going placidly amid the hustle of the sometimes unfairness of Toronto's daily life in the 20s. In an effective contrast, Gorman infuses Mr. Stewart with the stone-cold, impervious typical newspaper editor who is out to get the story at any cost, with little compassion towards the family situation.
As Bobbie's older brother, Maurice, Ori Black becomes that youthful voice of reason. He and his younger sister playfully react to why she wants to wear her older brother’s track shorts at the top of the show. The two performers build a believable sibling relationship. Maurice quietly becomes one of Bobbie’s supporters and understands her need to run and play sports. In contrast, Black’s Teddy does not want Bobbie to succeed and will go to whatever lengths to ensure she does not receive the proper newspaper coverage she deserves.
Olivia Daniels delivers a likable and confident performance as the central protagonist in the play. Periodically, she breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to the audience to fill in some plot gaps. Daniels’ Bobbie becomes a charming, gutsy, and intuitive woman, which was rare for the 1920s. She's willing to take risks and jumps at the opportunity to travel to Amsterdam for the Olympic Games. While women were supposed to remain demure and not speak out about social issues, Daniels' Bobbie emanates warmth while remaining focused on her goals no matter what others may think or say. Even though Sarah did not come down to the dock to see her daughter off safely, it didn't affect Bobbie's determination to travel to Europe and compete in the Olympic Games.
Final Comments: Bobbie Rosenfeld’s unconquerable spirit in her need to play sport marks Romanek’s script one for the Canadian theatre canon. Considering the controversies surrounding women's sports today in Canada and North America, I can’t help but think how timely the play is right now.
It’s one I hope theatres will pick up as part of their season slate.
Running time: approximately two hours and 10 minutes with one intermission.
‘Bobbie’ runs until September 10 at Five Points Theatre, 1 Dunlop Street West, Barrie. For tickets, visit theatrebythebay.com.
‘Bobbie’ by Trudee Romanek
Premiere staged by Theatre by the Bay, Barrie, Ontario.
Directed by Lynn Weintraub
Set Designer: Logan Raju Cracknell
Lighting Designer: Tim Rodrigues
Music Composition: Alondra Vega-Zaldivar
Sound Designer: Mathew Magneson
Costume Designer: Selina Jia
Projections Designer: Khaleel Gandhi
Props: Lesley Coo
Stage Manager: Amanda Caliolo
Production Manager: Santana Hamilton
Performers: Olivia Daniels as Fanny ‘Bobbie’ Rosenfeld; Ori Black as Maurice Rosenfeld/Teddy; Nadine Djoury as Sarah Rosenfeld/Evelyn; Matthew Gorman as Max Rosen