Hatikvah Productions and The Group at Strasberg Presents BEHIND THE GATES 5/15
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. David Gautreaux directs acclaimed playwright Wendy Graf's newest and most controversial work to date. Tom Beyer, James Eckhouse, Annika Marks, Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper, Oren Rehany, Robyn Roth, Keliher Walsh and Steven Robert Wollenberg star in the world premiere of Behind the Gates at the Marilyn Monroe Theatre at the Lee Strasberg Creative Center, May 15 through July 3. Low-priced previews begin May 12.
In Graf's gripping mystery, 17-year old Bethany (Annika Marks) disappears while on a school trip to Israel. As her parents (Keliher Walsh and James Eckhouse) 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 (Oren Rehany) 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.
"Wendy addresses important issues of religious extremism and oppression of women in these communities; but ultimately, Behind the Gates is about the emotional journey of a family," emphasizes Gautreaux. "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."
The Levantine Cultural Center, whose mission is to promote a greater understanding of the Middle East and North Africa by presenting artistic and educational programs that bridge political and religious divides, will sponsor two discussions about the issues explored in Behind the Gates as part of its "Identity Politics and the Middle East" series. Immediately following the matinee on Sunday, May 23, a panel of scholars will discuss The Role of Women in Conservative Religion. When does a woman's choice of piety result in misogynistic oppression by others? A second panel, on Sunday, June 6, will explore The Many Faces of Israel, the country of constant contradictions revealed in Behind the Gates: both old and new, orthodox and liberal, uncompromising and transcendent, a haven for some and occupation for others.
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 last October 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 is being presented by Hatikvah Productions and The Group at Strasberg.
Wendy Graf is a multi award-winning playwright whose most recent plays include Lessons (directed by Gordon Davidson); 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.
David Gautreaux most recently directed Loyalties by Tony Pasqualini at Pacific Resident Theatre. For Ensemble Studio Theatre-LA, he directEd Francisco Pizarro Sings by Jay Reiss, Suzan-Lori Parks' 365 Days/365 Plays, Buffalo Wings by Steve Monroe, Hope Bloat's by Patricia Scanlon, and Seth Greenland's Girls in Movies and Life's Too Short. Also an actor, some of his acting credits include Blood Moon by Nicholas Kazan, The Barretts of Wimpole Street, Richard II, Eat Your Heart Out (Drama Logue Award), and Tom Jones.
Keliher Walsh (Susan) Most recently: Six Degrees of Separation (The Old Globe). Broadway: Coastal Disturbances. Off Broadway: The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs, Gardenia, Breaking the Prairie Wolf Code, Postcards, James Joyce's Dubliners, The Poker Session, Living Quarters. Regional: Our Town, Eli, Tempest (Guthrie Theater); Scenes and Revelations (Pennsylvania Stage); Plough and the Stars (Huntington Theatre); The Royal Family (Pennsylvania Festival Theatre); Cloud Nine, Fifth of July (Portland Stage Company); LadyHouse Blues (American Stage Festival); Bad Art (Blank Theatre); This Old Man (Falcon Theatre); Bright Boy (EST-LA).
Annika Marks (Bethany/Bakol) In L.A: Liza in The Something Nothing (Lounge Theatre), Betty in The Accomplices (The Fountain Theatre at the Odyssey), The Last Seder (EST-LA at Greenway Court), Pipeman on the Moon (Hudson Mainstage), Early Decision (Edgemar). In N.Y.: Dan in Pull (The Producer's Club), Nina in The Seagull (Circle in the Square).
James Eckhouse (Jerry) Most recently: Edward Albee's The Goat (Mark Taper Forum), Mother Courage (La Jolla Playhouse), Six Degrees of Separation (The Old Globe). Off-Broadway and regional: dozens of world premieres by Richard Nelson, Michael Ondaatje, Christopher Durang, Wendy Wasserstein, Lanford Wilson, etc. Films: S.W.A.T., One True Thing, Junior, Defending Your Life, 84 Charing Cross Road, Fat Man and Little Boy, Big, Leaving Normal, Joseph - King of Dreams. Current independent films, Jimmy and Judy, Wake, Half Life (2008 Sundance Festival). TV: Jim Walsh on 90210, guest starring roles on close to 50 series.
Steven Robert Wollenberg (Ami): Maish Resnick in Requiem For A Heavyweight, the boss in Of Mice and Men, Off-Broadway in Duerenmatt's The Doppleganger at New York's Free Stage. Film credits include: Chris Carter's (X Files) new film, Fence Walker, The Pet (Cannes Film Festival), Pete's Garden (Sundance finalist).
Tom Beyer (Donald Stone) Ovation Award-winning actor whose credits include Cider House Rules (Mark Taper), My Antonia (Rubicon; PRT), The Winter's Tale (A Noise Within), Gappers of Fripp (Kirk Douglas Theatre), Merry Wives of Windsor (Old Globe), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Reprise), Liliom (Missouri Rep), Billy Bishop Goes to War.
Oren Rehany (Rabbi Meir) Born in Jerusalem, his credits include the lead in The Holy Land, an American indie shot in Israel (Grand Jury Prize, Slamdance Film Festival), an Israeli thug in West Bank Story (Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film), and the clueless Afghani suicide bomber in David Zucker's An American Carol.
Robyn Roth (Shirona/Arab Woman) Credits include Nina in The Seagull, Eva Peron in Evita, a member of the improv troupe, Comedy Sportz.
Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper (Arab/Russian/Armed Guard) Off-Broadway: Julius Caesar, The Prudent Wife, The Tryal, Monster Island. Other NY credits: SubUrbia, The Female Terrorists Project, Iolanthe, Slavs!, Sympathetic Magic, Three Days of Rain. Regional: Stephen Adly Gurgis' Our Lady of 121st Street, Dr. Tedrow's Last Breath. L.A: Blood Brothers (Whitefire Theatre), Ferdinand the Bull (Lewis Family Playhouse), Junie B. Jones (South Coast Rep).
Scenic Design for Behind the Gates is by Stephanie Kerley Schwartz; Costume Design is by Sarah Register; Lighting Design is by Angeline Summers-Marvel; Sound Design is by Keith Stevenson; Dialect Coach is Adam Michael Rose; Casting is by Raul Clayton Staggs; Stage Manager is Katherine Haan; and Racquel Lehrman produces for Theatre Planners.
Performances of Behind the Gates take place on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm, May 15 through July 3. There will be three low-priced previews on Wednesday, May 12; Thursday, May 13; and Friday, May 14, all at 8 pm. Panel discussions follow the matinee performances on Sunday, May 23 ("The Role of Women in Conservative Religion") and Sunday, June 6 ("The Many Faces of Israel") and are included in the ticket price. General admission is $25.00, except Opening Night (May 15) which is $30 and includes a Gala reception following the performance, and previews which are $12.50. The Marilyn Monroe Theatre at the Lee Strasberg Creative Center is located at 7936 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, 90046. For reservations and information, call (323) 960- 5772 or go to www.Plays411.com/Gates.