Musical drama Less Than Kosher skillfully charts a young Jewish woman’s awakening to her cultural, artistic and religious roots.
Divided into seven short segments, this zesty and exuberant Canadian production is currently available on Highball TV, and can be viewed on the ChaiFlicks streaming platform from June 12 onward.
Created by Shaina Silver-Baird and Michael Goldlist, and ably directed by Daniel Rosenberg, it is set in Toronto and unfolds over several weeks in the life of a single Jewish singer who’s down on her luck and has moved back to her parents’ home.
Aviva, known as Viv (Silver-Baird), has just been dropped by her manager and her career has been thrown into a downward spiral. Feeling disconsolate, Viv is in no mood to attend synagogue on Yom Kippur. “I don’t go to shul,” she tells her mother Lillian (Sarah Orenstein), and then proceeds to prematurely break the fast by munching on an apple.
Nevertheless, Viv accompanies her parents and sister, Gabbi (Arielle Halili), to prayer services. There she meets two people who will have a considerable impact on her — the congregational rabbi (David Eisner) and his son, Asher (David Reali).
Known as Ash, Asher is talkative and prone to sardonic humor. Viv seems amused by his jaunty manner and is attracted to him. They set up a casual date, and appear to enjoy each other’s company.
Ash’s father, a learned man, approaches Viv because he needs a substitute cantor. He asks Viv to apply her talent to “liturgical singing” and fill the absent cantor’s shoes. She resists with alacrity, saying she is a non-believer, does not keep kosher and cannot even speak Hebrew. “I’m barely Jewish,” she protests.
Still persistent, the rabbi insists that she has a wonderful voice. “You’re going to be inspiring,” he declares in no uncertain terms.
The matter is settled and Viv’s first cantorial gig is at a wedding. “You were fabulous,” says the rabbi. Viv, having accidentally spilled red wine on the bride’s immaculate dress, is not entirely sure that she acquitted herself well.
As time passes, Ash texts Viv incessantly and they continue dating, even after she finds out he’s married. Indeed, his willowy wife, Rachel (Vanessa Smythe), has just given birth to a son, at whose bris she performs.
At the rabbi’s request, Viv accepts a “graveyard singing” assignment at a funeral, and her performance is matchless.
Midway through the series, Viv’s mother informs her that her late father, whom Viv adored and still mourns, was less than a saint, and that her Hindu Canadian stepfather, Rajiv (Sugith Varughese), possesses great qualities of which she is unaware.
As Viv’s affair with Ash deepens, Gabbi secretly tapes Viv singing in a club and sends the “Judeo pop” video to a social media site, where it goes viral. By now, Viv has developed a keener appreciation of her Jewish heritage.
From this point forward, the gods finally seem to be on Viv’s side.
Thanks to fine production values, a snappy script and credible performances from the cast, Less Than Kosher looks and sounds like a show with audience appeal and potential.
It should definitely be continued.