Grandpa Sol and Grandma Rosie by Tina Hassannia

by Ottawa Fringe

June 19, 2009

More than just puppets wearing dentures

There is simply no creative way to introduce Grandpa Sol and Grandma Rosie without making gross generalizations about puppets and old people, is there? Let’s do this as quickly and painlessly as possible, then: Grandpa Sol is about a nurse (played by Australian comedienne Lana Schwarcz) and her experiences with six elderly patients in a retirement home, all of whom are portrayed as puppets. While Schwarcz brings the characters to life physically, their voices come from recordings of real, nursing-home residents that Schwarcz talked to while researching the show. Schwarcz’s inspiration came from two important people in her life.

“[Grandpa Sol] was inspired by the sad thought of my own two remaining grandparents not being around for too much longer,” says Schwarcz. “They are a part of a special generation, one that went through the Second World War.”

Schwarcz was compelled to record the personalities of a dying generation and their unique traits, including accents.

“The Yiddish accent in particular will hardly be around – if at all – once this generation disappears,” she says. “My puppets own accents from pre-war Russia, Poland, Australia, Scotland and Israel.”

Because of the way senior citizens are often portrayed in comedy, Schwarcz wanted to avoid stereotyping.

“I wanted to … present a truer sense of that generation than the one that is most commonly presented or mocked in other comedies.”

Schwarcz’s statement sounds contradictory at first, considering the

fact that the characters are life-size puppets made of latex and expanding foam. But Schwarcz has her reasons.

“I really do believe that puppets can get away with so many things that people can’t get away with,” she explains. “One of my puppets is a dirty old man, who in real life might be a bit creepy, but as a puppet, he is so endearing that he becomes the most loved character in the entire show.”

The taboos explored in the show are also the prime obsession of Schwarcz’s own character, who is afraid of aging and tries to come to terms through interactions with the six elderly folk.

“I think that as a society we do tend to pack our senior citizens away and not address their needs or even their positive contribution to our society. But maybe there is a reason for that – are we all scared to look at our own futures perhaps?” Schwarcz asks.

“No one really talks candidly about some of these things and my character sets out to discuss that, although she does it in her own quirky way, relating it to her own experiences. And depending on who you are in the audience, her take on it will either be funny, confronting, provoking or just plain scary or sad.”

“Funny” was the reaction from many Australian critics who gave Grandpa Sol such positive press that it was chosen to represent the country at Canada’s Association of Fringe Festivals. After Ottawa, Schwarcz will be touring another eight cities before returning home to start working on another production.

“I am loving Canada so far and would love to come back, but after dragging all of my freight around everywhere this year, I might decide to call my next show ‘Lana Schwarcz – No Puppet.'”

Grandpa Sol and Grandma Rosie
By Lana Schwarcz
@ Ottawa Fringe Fest
(Venue: Alumni Auditorium)
July 21, 9:30 p.m.
June 22, 9 p.m.
June 23, 6 p.m.
More info and showtimes:
www.ottawafringe.com