Daniel Karasik's Haunted navigates rocky emotional terrain
Because it’s getting its world premiere right here in Vancouver, there are no reviews of Daniel Karasik’s play Haunted to consult. It seems reasonable to assume, though, that with a cast that includes Patrick Sabongui and Kerry Sandomirsky, and with Katrina Dunn in the director’s chair, this Touchstone Theatre venture will meet a high standard of artistic excellence. And then there’s the fact that Haunted’s author is not only an unusually multi-talented wordsmith—on top of winning the 2011 Canadian Jewish Playwriting Competition and the 2012 CBC Short Story Prize, his first book of poetry will be published this spring—but an exceptionally articulate interview subject.
At the very least, this is going to be one smart script.
Although questions of religious belief (or non-belief) and Jewish identity are among Haunted’s themes, Karasik is quick to point out that it’s essentially a play about relationships. “It’s character-driven, ultimately,” he stresses, on the line from his Toronto home. “My interest is certainly as much in the specifics of those characters as it is in the philosophical or existential questions that they represent.”
The central figure is Abby, who’ll be played by Sandomirsky. While mourning her late husband—the shadowy presence hinted at in the title—she finds solace in a return to the synagogue, and in an attractive young rabbi, David. Tensions between the secular and the sacred, the physical and the philosophical, are thus immediately established, and how the characters negotiate this terrain is Karasik’s primary focus.
“The question for Abby, the lady who’s started attending synagogue, is whether she’s able to integrate that into her life,” Karasik says. “Does that [Judaism] illuminate things in her life for her in a way that’s satisfying and consolatory, or is it just a foreign way of being that she is unable to adapt herself to and doesn’t want to adapt herself to?”
David has his own ambivalences to confront, as do Abby’s daughter and her girlfriend. All of them also have to face larger questions about how spiritual impulses and cultural heritage affect our passage through a materialistic and deracinated world—questions that clearly fascinate Karasik.
“I was surprised by how many people seem to have thought about the questions that the play asks, and who have some personal relationship to them, and to religious experience and what that can mean for the individual,” he says. “I don’t feel like that is talked about very much. I certainly don’t have that conversation very much in my own circles.…My sample size isn’t very large, but I thought it was interesting how much latent searching and latent uncertainty about spirituality and belief there is among seemingly quite rationalistic people.”
For now, Karasik is loath to offer any definitive answers about faith, society, or even art, which is probably wise. After all, he’s only 26. But he’s already set to be a source of interesting questions for a long time to come.