About the Show
In a parent's worst nightmare, a troubled American teen vanishes into the mysterious world of Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox haredi community while on a summer trip to Israel, cutting off all communication with her desperate mother and father. Karla Hartley directs acclaimed playwright Wendy Graf's most controversial work to date. Petrus Antonius, Danielle Calderone, Pete Clapsis, Caroline Jett, Isabel Natera, Owen Robertson, Nicu Brouillette, and Frank Jakes star in the eastern US premiere of Behind the Gates in the Shimberg Playhouse at the Straz Center, May 2 through 26, where Jobsite is resident theater company.
In Graf's gripping mystery, 17-year old Bethany (Danielle Calderone) disappears while on a school trip to Israel. As her parents (Caroline Jett and Pete Clapsis) feverishly search throughout Jerusalem for their daughter, they find themselves lost in an alien world where ancient and modern collide, conflicting cultures and politics clash, and extreme orthodoxies and passionate feelings of nationalism try to coexist while growing more volatile with each passing day.
"My play asks questions about orthodoxy, whether it be Muslim, Catholic, Evangelical or Jewish," Graf explains. "This is a story we're reading in the news everyday. Religious fundamentalism provides a sense of community and identity along with a relief of absolutes that can prove powerfully attractive to young people."
Back in the States, Bethany had turned to sex, drugs, and ditching school to try to fill her terrible longing for acceptance and identity, so she is ripe and suggestive when the zealous and charismatic Rabbi Meir (Owen Robertson) approaches her one afternoon in Jerusalem. To her parents' bewilderment and horror, Bethany becomes completely absorbed into the world of the haredim, changing her name, adopting a new identity, and ultimately disappearing. Her parents' search for her becomes a search for themselves.
Graf addresses important issues in religious extremism and oppression of women in these communities; but ultimately, Behind the Gates is about the emotional journey of a family. Their ever-increasing panic as they hunt for their daughter is highlighted by the clash of languages, a cacophony of sound that permeates the play. In the end, the mother's search for her daughter becomes a spiritual and cultural odyssey of self-discovery.
In early readings, Behind the Gates came under attack from members of the American Jewish community who feared it would stir anti-Semitism with its unvarnished portrayal of the ultra-orthodox haredi culture. Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben of Kehillat Israel Congregation notes, "The play asks questions, but isn't Jewish tradition based on questions? The beauty of Wendy's work is that she presents both sides, then asks the audience to open up a dialogue and think."
Behind the Gates is made possible by the generous support of the Tampa Jewish Community Center and Federation, who host a private opening night performance on May 2, and who are assisting in the facilitation of community dialogue through talkbacks inclusive of scholars and clergy after certain performances that focus on issues explored in the play such as women's roles in conservative religion, fundamentalism, and oppression.
Wendy Graf began writing Behind the Gates in 2008, following a trip to Israel. The first act, under the title Bethany/Bakol, was a winner in the Denise Ragan Wiesenmeyer One Act Play Festival and was presented at L.A's Attic Theatre. The full length version has been developed and presented in staged readings at Theatre West, Theater 40, Ensemble Studio Theater-LA's Winterfest 2009, and Blank Theater Company, and the world premiere was presented by Hatikvah Productions and The Group at Strasberg. Graf is an award-winning playwright whose most recent plays include Lessons; Leipzig (L.A. Drama Critics Circle nomination, Back Stage Garland Award, Dorothy Silver Playwriting Competition finalist); The Book of Esther (San Fernando Valley Artistic Director Award nomination for Best Play, ASK Theater Projects Grant Award); In the Time of Elephants; A Hollywood Fable; L.A. Tales; No Word in Guyanese for Me; The Cross and the Saber; and Shanghai Ghetto. An evening of one-acts collected under the title Zeno's Paradox includes Lester and Schloss (2008 Ellen Idelson Award winner, 2008 Arts and Letters Prize for Drama finalist, 2009 International Jewish Short Play Competition) and Reports of My Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated (EST-LA's Winterfest 2009; 2010 FirstStage One Act winner). Ms. Graf is a member of Theatre West, Ensemble Studio Theatre Writing Unit, and Actors Studio Playwrights/Directors Unit.
Behind the Gates plays May 1 – 26, 2013. Thursday, May 2 is a private gala opening hosted by the Tampa Jewish Community Center and Federation. The show opens to the public on Friday, May 3. All tickets are $28. Rush tickets for students, seniors and military are $10, and are available as of 30 minutes prior to curtain with cash and valid ID at the Straz Center Ticket Sales Office window. A preview performance will be held on May 1 at 8, with all tickets priced at $10.