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Putting the blame on mom

September, 2009

More than 50 years ago, when Lil Levinson-Garmaise was raising a family in late 1950s Montreal, she was also starting to do something most other women wouldn’t have dreamed of: making a name for herself as an author of musical comedies.

Carmen Cohen, which is probably her best known work, was initially produced in 1957 and revived five years ago as Carmen on the Main, with Rita Wasserman playing the lead role. Despite the fact it is light entertainment, it has achieved a degree of cultural significance, partly because of its theme, which centres on Montreal’s once-thriving garment industry.

Over the past 12 years, Levinson-Garmaise and several others have staged four shows at the Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors. In October, her latest effort, a musical comedy called Put the Blame on Mom, will be playing for four nights at Congregation Beth-El on Lucerne Rd. in Town of Mount Royal. A cast of 30 actors, singers and dancers, ranging in age from 65 to 93, will lampoon psychiatry and the burden of guilt members of that profession have tended to place on moms – at least in the cliché.

The production will feature at least one person who shared in Levinson-Garmaise’s initial success. Glenda Radin has agreed to return as musical director of soloists for the new show. Other collaborators include choreographer Lil Arfen, producer Rita Scott, musical director Nick Burgess and artistic director Lorna Wayne.

“When we went into production almost a year ago, Rita, Lil Arfin and I were looking for a musical director, and I remembered that 50 years earlier I had an excellent one in Glenda,” Levinson-Garmaise said. “I had a hard time finding her. I went through the phone book. One lady who answered was Glenda’s sister-in-law. That’s how we connected.”

Accordi ng to the author, Put the Blame on Mom tells the story of some women who decide to rebel against psychiatrists who (in typically Freudian lockstep) insist on blaming mothers when things go wrong in their children’s lives.

“Psychiatrists always blame mothers,” Levinson-Garmaise said. “I don’t know to what degree, but this is a known fact. But it’s all lighthearted. No doctor ought to take this seriously. We’ll have a disclaimer on the program. I’m sure they’re going to laugh. They’ll need a sense of humour, of course.”

Although they’ve done shows together before, “we’ve never done so much dancing, so much movement and had so much energy on stage,” Arfin said. “So there’s a good spirit. We’ve all enjoying it very much be- cause it’s so different.”

The difference between this show and all the others is that they’ve got professional people in charge and they’re teaching the others such things as how to move on stage, Radin added.

Levinson-Garmaise’s retelling of Carmen was set to the music of the famous opera by Bizet. However, in her version, the lead female character was Jewish and worked in the fictional (albeit very real-sounding) Atomic Men’s Pants Manufacturing Co. on St. Laurent, otherwise known as The Main. In 1957, the show ran for a week at the Beth Aaron synagogue, then located in Park Extension, but since become the Beth Israel–Beth Aaron Congregation.

While Act One of Carmen Cohen took place at the fictional factory, Act Two was set at Montreal’s famous, although now defunct, Ben’s Delicatessen. Hi Radin, who is cast in the upcoming show, had played Ben. “The show went over very wel l,” Levinson-Garmaise said. “It was reviewed by Sidney Johnson of the Mont real Star. For an amateur performance that was quite unusual.” A year later, a producer in Hamilton, Ont., got in touch, seeking the script. They staged the play there and made $3,000 in one week, equal to $30,000 today.

There will be four performances of Put the Blame on Mom. Three evening shows take place from Wednesday, Oct. 21 to Saturday, Oct. 24, with a matinée scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 25. Tickets are $20 for the evening shows and $18 for the matinées. For tickets and informa- tion, call 514-738-4766. Congregation Beth-El is at 1000 Lucerne Rd.



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