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The Walnut Tree catapults through time

By in Culture

Arts Writer

“It’s the assignment of a lifetime,” said Deborah Buck of her involvement in Persephone Theatre’s season opener The Walnut Tree.

A local cast, a meaningful story and the opportunity to play a variety of musical styles are just a few of the things that make Buck’s experience so special.

The script is pulled from the pages of a novel of the same name by Saskatoon writer Martha Blum. It tells the story of a young Jewish woman, Sussel, whose strength and spirit navigate her through turbulent social changes, trials of love and times of unprecedented brutality.

Sussel’s intense personal journey begins with a life of privilege in Austria and traverses the horrors of Eastern Europe during WWII. Finally, it comes to rest in the peace and promise of Saskatoon.

The story was dramatized for the stage by local playwright Geoffrey Ursell, who worked on the script with Blum until her death in 2007.

“Geoffrey has a profound respect for Martha’s story,” said Buck. “There’s a lot of love in this adaptation. It’s brought to life in a very creative way.”

The world of the play is created by Sussel who, provoked by unsettling feelings from her past, unleashes a powerful retelling of her life’s story. People from her past, including a younger version of herself, appear onstage to recreate her memories.

While all the other characters are essentially extensions of Sussel, Buck has a different role. Her character is a musician and interacts with Sussel like they were old friends and urges her to release her story.

“I’m outside of it. But I’m also a part of her,” explained Buck, whose character uses music to help Sussel remember certain experiences.

“Music is used to evoke place. It evokes era. And of course, it underscores the mood.”

Buck gathered all the music for the show, choosing each piece to complement the location and emotional quality of a scene. Considering the impressive scope of Sussel’s journey, this was not a simple task.

“What kind of music do you need to evoke a field hospital? Or a Café in Czernowitz? Or a boat trip to Canada?” wondered Buck. “There is no score — there’s a story. I use all my skill to help create the story.”

Fortunately she has the help of a cohesive, caring ensemble.

“I’m working with a company of mostly local actors. It’s working with friends actually.”

“I’m working with a company of mostly local actors. It’s working with friends actually.”

—Deborah Buck

The process has been a captivating one for Buck, who is a seasoned performer.

“We are really working together. I’m listening to them. They’re listening to me. Communicating without words, we’ve managed to connect.”

Buck believes that this connection comes from the personal relationship each member has to the script and to Martha Blum, who was a pillar of the Saskatoon arts community.

“She, as far as I know, went to every concert and play. So I saw her (all the time).”

And for those who don’t know Martha, they can find a connection to her immigrant story.

“My dad came on a boat in 1947,” explains Buck. “We all come from somewhere else.”

Although it is the journey of one woman, it represents a larger tale: the immigration to and the creation of a city.

“In the rehearsal hall we get together in little clumps, ”˜My grandfather’ or ”˜My grandma.’ One story sparks another story. Soon you’re swapping stories about your roots.”

By sharing this woman’s tale, they know they’re revealing a piece of themselves.

“It makes the work spring to life in a way I’ve never seen. There is a passion in the company to tell the story for Martha. A real desire to honour the Walnut Tree.”

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The Walnut Tree runs from Sept. 23 to Oct. 7 at Persephone Theatre.
Call 384-7727 for tickets.


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