Forest Hill playwright climbs theatre ranks

[attach]3309[/attach]Michael Ryval has come a long way to be where he is today — namely, in the director’s chair at the Holy Blossom Temple Stagecraft Company.

Since joining the Forest Hill-based theatre company in 1995, the freelance journalist has moved up the ranks — first moving sets and running lights to eventually performing on stage. He has been directing shows since 2000.

This month, he and a team of volunteers who dedicate their time to Stagecraft tackle heady familial issues with The Last Days of Rachel Samuel, a play Ryval wrote himself.

Based on Ryval’s own upbringing, the play tells the story of Rachel, who has not spoken to her mother Klara for 30 years.

Unbeknownst to Klara, Rachel is dying of cancer. Friends and family members try to bring the two together again.

The material hits close to home, Ryval says.

“My parents divorced when we were teenagers,” he says. “My mother raised me while our father raised my sister. This caused a rift between the two women.”

Ryval says the play is an emotional roller coaster with some humour thrown in.

“The play evolved over time with many changes to the text suggested by the cast.”

Writing isn’t unfamiliar territory for the Prague-born Ryval.

[attach]3310[/attach]After being raised in Montreal, Ryval and his wife Janet moved to Toronto in 1973, where he studied journalism at Ryerson. He has been a freelance writer ever since.

After moving to Toronto, Michael attended theatre productions at Stratford and the Shaw Festival, where he got into the habit of observing directorial techniques. After directing many plays for the Stagecraft Company, he decided to try his hand with The Last Days of Rachel Samuel, drawing on his own experiences.

“I was able to use my skills as a journalist and apply them as a stage director.”

Working as a business reporter for such publications as the Globe and Mail and Morningstar Canada, Ryval was still able to squeeze in time for Stagecraft Company, which focuses on plays with Jewish themes. Some of the other volunteers are working while others are retired. Totalling 25, they rehearse plays for three to four months three times a week and they do complete run-throughs during the two-week lead up to curtain call.

Occasionally, actors are recruited from George Brown College and the Randolph Academy of Performing Arts.

The Last Days of Rachel Samuel runs Jan. 20, 21, 22 at 7p.m. Jan. 23 showtime is 2 p.m. Ticket $18 and $15 for students and seniors.

Holy Blossom Temple at 1950 Bathurst St., one block south of Eglinton Ave. West. For tickets call 416-789-3291 ext. 511.