Hello, I Must Be Going

Norbert Ruebsaat

In August 2006, in a former miner’s hall in Silverton, B.C., across Slocan Lake from New Denver Glacier in the Valhalla Range, a group of us listened to Bessie Wapp’s one-woman show, Hello, I Must Be Going, which recalls to life the voices of four Jewish women ancestors. Two of the women survived the Holocaust in Lithuania; one sailed to the United States on an immigrant ship in 1888 and the other one, Bessie’s mother, emigrated to the Slocan Valley from the USA in the 1970s, and sat with us in the audience. Hello, I Must Be Going quoted from the women’s diaries, dramatized interviews with their descendants conducted in Lithuania and North America, and recounted events which, were they to be cited by the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, would be labelled The Irreparable: events that scar the soul and from which the psyche does not recover, because they cannot be accurately described. In the Q&A after the performance, an audience member remarked that here, in a place as close to paradise as one could imagine, it was excruciating to remember or imagine the world in which the play’s events occurred, in which the people depicted to have lived in such a world survived, and in which the meaning of such acts of survival could make sense. A kind of shiver went through the audience at this point and we all huddled into our fleeces; everything that happened in the room after that was personal. Bessie’s mother Judy, who co-wrote the play and remembered the events recalled there, joined Bessie and Nicola Harwood, the director, at the front of the theatre and as we spoke and listened to each other, we struggled to remain in the present while recalling a past. Nicola mentioned that she and the others had heard exactly the same comment about paradise and pain after the show was performed in Nelson, B.C., and that they expected to hear it again in upcoming performances in Kaslo, B.C., Vancouver and possibly Calgary. Disciplining memory, she said, was what she learned while making the play, just as Bessie had learned—while performing, as Bessie cut in to point out—how the body remembers what the mind possibly cannot: you act it out, Bessie said, and then it comes back. When we went outside afterwards, the burble of Silverton Creek rose over our acoustic horizon and we looked up at New Denver Glacier reflecting moonlight from across the lake, and somebody noted that the ice had receded by 30 percent since the 1970s, and that Slocan Valley was the only major watershed in the Kootenays that had not been altered beyond recall by hydroelectric dams. Hello, I Must Be Going was performed again in February 2008 in Vancouver, as part of the Chutzpah! Festival.

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Norbert Ruebsaat

Norbert Ruebsaat has written many articles for Geist. He lived in Vancouver and taught at Simon Fraser University.


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