Thursday, June 10, 2010

Opening up to "Behind The Gates"

Last weekend, I had an opportunity to see the play, "Behind the Gates" at the Marilyn Monroe Theatre at the Lee Strasberg Creative Center in West Hollywood. I'd read a description of the play on, but other than that, I didn't know much else about it. I wasn't sure what to expect, but that's part of the fun of going to theatre is the unexpected. (Photo by Ed Krieger)

When we were seated in the theatre, I started to page through the program and got a little bit more background on the play and playwright. I learned that the controversial production had some who feared its content would "stir anti-semitism with its unvarnished portrayal of the ultra-Orthodox haredi culture." At this point, I started to get the sense that maybe I'd walked into something that might have been a little more "preachy" than what I was interested in. Nonetheless, I decided to keep an open mind and give the show a chance.

The play starts with Bethany (Annika Marks), an angry (and I don't use that word lightly) teenager who freely lets the audience know about her not-so-kind sentiments toward her adopted parents. During this monologue, I saw a little bit of myself as a teen: scared, rebellious, confused, desiring to belong and be accepted.

Then, the journey begins as the audience is whisked away to Israel, where we find Bethany (whose parents had sent her off for the summer to a retreat for Jewish women), still confused and angry. But there is something different about her, being in this land. And we watch as she seamlessly transitions from the American teen girl, expressing her rage through wild hair, dark make-up and clothing, into a calmer, happier girl who changes her name to Bakol, praises modesty, and embraces the haredi culture.

Meanwhile, back in the states, Bethany's parents (played by James Eckhouse and Keliher Walsh) have tried to communicate with their daughter, only to discover that she's cut off all ties with them and is possibly missing somewhere in Israel. They travel overseas, hire a private investigator, and through this wild hunt for Bakol, we see how each is affected and moved by being in Israel. Eventually, we learn, along with Bakol, that life is not always what you expect, and the haredi way of life was not as she had imagined.

When Bethany is reunited with her mother, she is a changed girl - not quite a woman, but certainly more mature; however, still confused about who she is and where she fits in.

I've always been fascinated with religion and the way it affects people. More interesting to me are the fundamentalists, and how strongly they believe in what they've learned. How they're able to justify the things they do, where in other cultures, it may be seen as wrong or unjust. "Behind the Gates" is more than a critique on the haredi culture. In addition to a story of how this ancient holy country moves people, it's an examination of religion, particularly fundamentalist views. It explores life from different perspectives - through the eyes of religion, through the eyes of parents, of teens, Americans, and Israelis.

The play intends to question, but does not attempt to make any conclusions. That's up to the audience to discuss and decide.

"Behind the Gates" runs every Friday and Saturday at 8PM, and Sunday at 2PM now through July 3rd at the Lee Strasberg Creative Center (Marilyn Monroe Theatre).


No comments: