The Gates of Choice
The Gates of Choice
By Michelle Rosenfarb
Directed by Julia Allardice Gagne
Starring Brian Feldman and Kate McBryde
Valencia Character Company, Orlando FL
Look closely and you’ll see no difference between a strict Hasidic Jew and an abusive man. One views the woman as his personal property to use as he sees fit, and the other views the woman as his personal property to be used as his interpretation of the Old Law sees fit. It’s a one way prison, cloaked in pious words. Menachem Stein (Feldman) rejected his parents Reformed Judaism and assimilation in the United States, and retreated to an ultra-orthodox community in Jerusalem. They may be only two blocks from the mall, but it feels like the Jerusalem before King David. Menachem’s wife Sorah (Carolyn Ducker) accepts the discipline, but daughter Mehira (McBryde) senses life offers more than an arranged marriage in a world 10 blocks square. Temptation arrives in the form of recovering Hassidim and soldier Ori Ben-Natan (Buddy Fales). The mere thought of a woman unaccompanied with a strange man threatens the moral fibre of Menachem’s world, but after Mehira convinces Ori to kiss her, they both decide it’s not all that exciting. Menachem spirals deeper and deeper into religious guilt, but the real victim here is Sorah – she loses a daughter and a husband, but still has to support him and do his laundry. That’s Judaism – you’re never without drama in your life.
This otherwise intriguing show had some very odd blocking – 15 minutes passed before it felt like the cast looked the audience in the eye. Perhaps the director was looking to heighten the feeling of isolation, but it felt weird. Both Feldman and Fales were excellent as the paths in and out of Hassidism, but McBryde and her friend Libi (Katie MacMillan) felt a bit rough emotionally as two girlhood friends, and I thought Ms. Ducker’s Sorah seemed so cowed by her husband’s character she was afraid to act. One problem facing the script is its use of Hebrew terms, which are immediately and helpfully explained upon use. While we might guess the meaning, or it might not matter, the practice becomes noticeable early on and feels forced. Ori’s character could use a little more explaining as well, his decision to secularize and it’s repercussions aren’t as clear as Menachem’s opposite decision path.
“The Gates of Choice” was the winner of the annual Florida Playwright Competition. It enters a world that seems more like our stereotype of Islam, and shows a world that believes that equality, freedom of choice, and self determinations for all is undesirable. Menachem controls and does not produce, but rather prays and expects his food on time, his women complaint, and his world unchallenged. It’s a tall order, and his tragedy is even though he does what his peers expect, they eventually decide he’s not strict enough and kick him out of his Shul. He did everything God commanded, and still fails. If we strive for perfection, we better have loose standards if we want to succeed.
For more information on Valencia Character Company, please visit http://valenciacc.edu/theater/