Actor felt a ‘magnet pull’ to latest play

A story about family and survival, A Pretty Girl — A Shayna Maidel runs Sept. 13–28 at the Chemainus Theatre.

Winnipeg-based actor Harry Nelken says he felt a magnetic pull to A Pretty Girl — A Shayna Maidel, the latest production at the Chemainus Theatre Festival.

Partly, it was the connections he saw with his own family, and partly it was the play’s messages about family, love and survival.

In A Pretty Girl, written in 1986 by Barbara Lebow, the consequences of one innocent decision change the course of a family’s life forever.

After many years of separation, Polish sisters Lusia and Rayzel “Rose” Weiss have reunited in a collision of vastly different worlds. Amid the chaos of becoming reacquainted, each girl struggles to honour her past and live for the future, according to a press release from the Chemainus Theatre.

The story begins 20 years after scarlet fever, the Depression, and World War II divided their family between Holocaust-seized Poland and sheltered New York. Meeting now as grownups in mid-century Manhattan, the sisters share little in common beyond their fragile bloodline, states the release.

Nelken plays Mordechai, the girls’ “blustery and imperious father.”

While checking the websites of various theatre companies looking for work, Nelken came across A Pretty Girl.

“It had an enormous impact on me because of personal connections resonating with me,” he said. “My parents are survivors of Warsaw, Poland, from the end of the war to coming to Canada in 1948. There are some deep insights I got about my parents that I didn’t get from them.

“I think the magnet pull for me was that it was a wonderful gift and a chance to get to know my parents better from their pre-Canada days and what it meant for them to lose everything and come here and start over. There are a lot of personal resonances.”

Nelken feels the play is all about survival and an underlying theme of flesh and blood.

“It’s all about relationships, abandonment, betrayal, deep hurt and that’s kind of balanced with the more positive human emotions of re-connecting,” he said. “There are moments in the play that kind of hit me, and I’m sure the audience will feel things too. It’s just a story about family and the impasses and what’s needed to break those down and become a family again. It’s a long, hard road, but the affirmation of life is what shines through in this play.”

Nelken feels the opportunity to act in A Pretty Girl is a gift, and he is eager to share that gift with his family, many of whom will get a chance to see the play. He’d like to say a big hello to his daughters Rachel in Vancouver and Rhea in Winnipeg, as well as his bother Mayer in Richmond and sister Miriam in Victoria.

This is Nelken’s second production with the Chemainus Theatre Festival. In 2010, he played Al Lewis in The Sunshine Boys. Nelken says that was a fantastic experience, and during his time here, he got his conure parrot, Baby Mischief, from Sooke.

“We take her everywhere we go, and she’s here again,” he said.

A Pretty Girl runs from Sept. 13-28. Tickets are available at or by calling 1-800-565-7738.


Just Posted

CVRD to increase enforcement after audits reveal that curb-side recycling contamination in the district is well above acceptable limits. (File photo)
CVRD reports contamination in recyclables well above acceptable levels

Increased enforcement planned starting this summer

A conceptual rendering of the commercial plaza at 1130 Rocky Creek Road. (Town of Ladysmith/June 15 Council Agenda)
Rocky Creek commercial plaza passes public hearing

The proposed plaza at 1130 Rocky Creek Road would bring commercial activity to Ladysmith’s north end

Kate Cram and her team at Old Town Ice Cream are thrilled to be open for business. (Cole Schisler photo)
Old Town Ice Cream opens up right on time for summer

Located at 539 1st Avenue, Old Time Ice Cream is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily

Things are looking up for Vancouver Island as zero COVID-19 cases have been reported for the first time since October. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Island records zero new COVID-19 cases for the first time since October

For the first time since October, the province is reporting zero new… Continue reading

Black Press file photo
RCMP seek suspect in Vancouver Island-wide crime spree

Crimes stretched from Deep Bay to Qualicum, Ladysmith, Chemainus and Youbou

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

FILE – Most lanes remain closed at the Peace Arch border crossing into the U.S. from Canada, where the shared border has been closed for nonessential travel in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The restrictions at the border took effect March 21, while allowing trade and other travel deemed essential to continue. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Feds to issue update on border measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents

Border with U.S. to remain closed to most until at least July 21

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Fort St. John man arrested after allegedly inviting sexual touching from children

Two children reported the incident to a trusted adult right away

A Lotto 6/49 ticket purchased in Parksville for the June 19, 2021 draw is a $3M winner. (Submitted photo)
Winning Lotto 6/49 ticket worth $3M purchased on Vancouver Island

Lottery prize winners have 52 weeks to claim jackpot

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed teen facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

Most Read