NOVEMBER 1, 2018 – Guy Ben-Aharon regularly makes ‘exploration trips’ in Israel to see productions of contemporary theater. During his last such effort in January, the Israeli Stage artistic director saw “Demonstrate” (Tadgimi in Hebrew) at the Tel-Aviv Museum. As Ben-Aharon recently told the Journal, Daphna Silberg – a leading Israeli theater director/conceiver – staged its 2008 Jerusalem rape trial text in “a ‘tennis court’ style, so the audience was forced to look at one another throughout the proceedings. It was very powerful.” Shortly thereafter, he started talking to Daphna about the possibility of translating it into English. As a result, Ben-Aharon is now directing the area’s English premiere of “Demonstrate” in a staged reading at the Emerson Paramount Center.
Elaborating upon his reaction to Silberg’s conception of the transcription and detailing their professional relationship, Ben-Aharon noted, “I have known Daphna for years, and have admired her work as a documentarian stage director – she’s one of the leading directors in Israel for staging real live events.
“It’s one thing to hear about a story in the news, it is another thing to have to sit through it and relive it within an intimate setting.” As for the “tennis court” style, he reflected, “Your fellow audience members and you become accomplices. You are invited to live through history, not have history pass you by. That’s what I find so fascinating about these stagings of real life dramas.”
The English language dramatized transcription takes its title from the defense attorney’s humiliating request that the 16-year-old plaintiff Zohar demonstrate on the courtroom floor the positions in which she was raped.
Silberg turned that offensiveness on its head by means of a gender reversal – one that Israeli Stage will also employ. In both cases, women play the actual male defense attorney Kofman, prosecutor Barda, and grilling judges. The Israeli Stage cast includes Miranda Austen ADEkoje, Marianna Bassham, Sheila Stasack, Mary Niederkorn and Zavan Ovian. About this unusual approach, Ben-Aharon commented, “By flipping the genders in the staging of a real-life court hearing, the performance brings to light the absurdist reality countless women face in having to withstand treatment men would never be subjected to.”
Questioned as to whether he has consulted with Daphna about perceptions in Israel and what women face there, Ben-Aharon responded, “I don’t want to speak for Daphna, but she pointed out that she felt the #MeToo movement in Israel feels like it’s a step behind the American one, especially when it comes to the cultural sphere.” As an example, he cited the resignation of Miki Gorevich from his post at the Nisan Nativ Acting Studio after allegations of sexual assault. Pointing out that these allegations were made public over two years ago, Ben-Aharon asked, “What took so long to force this man to resign? Why weren’t the allegations of countless actors believed when they were first brought up?”
At the same time, Ben-Aharon – no stranger to provocative work (the Sobol drama “The Last Act,” for example) – has high praise for Silberg. “I admire Daphna’s finger on the pulse” he stressed. “She presents work that is relevant to Israeli society today, and doesn’t shy away from subject matters that are difficult for Israeli society to confront. In a cultural landscape that prefers comedies and escapism, I am in awe of her work as an invitation for audiences to face the questions that are most pressing for our time.”
“Demonstrate,” Israeli Stage, Emerson Paramount Center, 3 p.m. November 13. IsraeliStage.com.