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The Spare Room

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The Spare Room

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The Spare Room
By Mordecai Richler
Scenario Productions
A vintage radio play on one CD
ISBN: 1-894003-25-X

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness:

The Spare Room is not so much a play as it is a series of vignettes. In this tale by Mordecai Richler, a Canadian novelist and playwright, we are introduced to the Hirsh's, a patriotic Jewish-Canadian family who wants to help out the war effort by taking in boarders. To make room for a boarder, the family disposes their son from his room.

In Episode one, entitled The First Time I Left Home, the family receives their first boarder, who arrived in 1943. He is Heir Banbinger, a refugee from Europe who is awaiting the arrival of his family. The boy is less than hospitable to this refugee from Nazi aggression. Rather than sympathizing with his plight, the boy is angry that his life has been altered. Although not an active participant in the war, the war nonetheless forces its way into the boy's consciousness, making him realize that even in the relative safety of Canada, the war can still reach out to harm him and those around him.

Episode two, Some Grist for Mervyn's Mill, takes place sometime after Banbinger has left the house. In between the two boarders, others have made use of the boys room, but it was Mervyn that had, perhaps, the biggest impact on the family. Mervyn is a poor writer, who is still waiting for his one big break. Mrs. Hirsh is immediately taken with Mervyn and does her best to protect him from her husband's demands for the rent. But over time, Mervyn wins over the entire family, to the extent of almost being treated like a son. For the boy, he is companionship and for the mother, someone to care for and to get married off. But for the father, Mervyn is a status symbol. A writer is an educated person, a person who has the power to influence everyone who reads his work.

As the various boarders pass through the Hirsh's home in Montreal, each leaves an indelible imprint upon the family and those around him. These vignettes are heartwarming and provide a brief glimpse into one aspect of World War II that is often overlooked - that of the small heros, those who did small, but nonetheless important tasks. Though small, when combined with a thousand other small acts of courage and kindness, served to aid the Allies in their eventual victory over evil.

This tale, from the archives of CBC Radio is available on a single compact disc from Scenario Productions. The play runs for one hour. It is a full cast production featuring, Henry Comor as Mr. Hirsh, Marian Waldman as Mrs. Hirsh, Billie-Mae Richards as The Boy, Ben Lennick as Banbinger, and David Clement as Mervyn. Other cast members include Paul Kligman, Nancy Dale, Toby Tarnow, Jacqueline White, Alfie Scopp and many more... This play features an original musical score, composed and directed by Morris Surdin.

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