Hold The Pickle

Stand up comedian Rachel Berger has had audiences in fits of laughter for decades. As she says,  “For 28 years I’ve commandeered the audience to a designated outcome,” but in her one-woman play, Hold the Pickle, it’s a completely different kettle of fish.

Hold the Pickle is a dramatic piece. Though peppered with plenty of laughs, it’s primarily a love story. Her parents’ journey as Polish Jews fleeing the Nazi regime was fraught with fear and difficultly, but their unbreakable love made the impossible possible. I interviewed her advance of her show at Frankston Arts Centre.

PEARL: What does the expression Hold the Pickle mean to you and how does it relate to the show?
BERGER: It’s a line in the show that I can’t reveal because it would spoil the show, but it’s something my father used to say to me on a weekly basis. It’s not like hold the chutney on a sandwich; it’s hold the pickle in your hand. (Parts of the show take place in her parent’s St. Kilda delicatessen)

PEARL: Remembering your family history via theatre is an unconventional experience. Do you find it comforting or confronting to share your history with an audience?
BERGER:  Well…I feel it is a privilege that they listen. It’s a blessing to be able to share it from an artistic point of view. I’m just telling a story. I’m not a great actor, but it’s a great story. I think people take what they want and need to take from it.

PEARL: I understand your mother couldn’t come to see this show live and said nothing when she first saw it on DVD. Has she said anything about it since?
BERGER: No. I visited her (she lives in Queensland) many times over years and spoke to her about these family references to hiding from the Nazis. I asked her very specific questions. I wondered…how did she do it? I recorded her. As she told her story her voice changed. You can hear it in the recording. Her voice got deeper and deeper as she told the story from the deepest place in her. There was this disconnect as she remembered the details. I think it was incredibly difficult for her. 

PEARL: What’s it like portraying your mother on stage?
BERGER: Every mother and daughter have a complex relationship, but this process of stepping into her body and being her, I have come to love her more as woman. She was a tough mother. She had to be. On a deep level I understood why she was like that. I thought…you are an amazing woman. She’s 91 now!  This play shows how much I love her. When you see it there is something at the end that says it all. Playing her has given me an adult appreciation of her as a woman.   

PEARL: Any one-person show is a massive undertaking. Do you have a trick to tackle all of that memorization?
BERGER: No. I remember the narrative, but the story is a little bit different every time. It’s never word perfect because I’m a stand up comedian, I need to change things based on audience response. For example, if I see in the audience there’s a certain resonance, I’ll expand on that.  Every night it’s a little different.  

Having spoken to Berger extensiveIy, I can say with confidence that it would be a mistake to miss this incredibly human story playing at The Frankston Arts Centre on Thursday, August 28 at 8 pm. Bookings: www.thefac.com.au or 9784 1060.



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