In the first minutes of Wendy Graf’s play, “Behind The Gates,” profanity constantly escapes Bethany (Annika Marks). Her darkened eyes look straight into the pupils of whoever dares to hold a stare back at her. She complains about Los Angeles being superficial and disgusting, about her parents being inconsiderate, selfish, and not her real parents after all.
“Behind The Gates” is Wendy Graf’s latest play, directed by David Gautreaux. It had its worldwide premiere on May 13 and ran until July 3 at the Marilyn Monroe Theatre at the Lee Strasberg Creative Center in West Hollywood, Calif.
The cast included Robyn Roth who graduated from California State University, Northridge in 1995 with a bachelor’s degree in theatre.
Bethany begins resembling the stereotypical rebellious teenager America has witnessed or at least heard of, but before the audience’s eyes begin to roll, Graf’s play takes a turn far from disappointment. The audience suddenly finds itself in a trip that holds the power to either destroy or bring back to life any human soul, destination: Jerusalem, Israel.
The play’s slogan is “A Parent’s Worst Nightmare” but this only describes part of the play’s focus, which also touches on a handful of serious concerns and real-life issues going on in Israel concerning the ultra-Orthodox haredi community and its strict social norms.
As “Behind the Gates” takes off, the audience understands that Bethany was adopted by American Jews, Susan Leiberman (Keliher Walsh) and Jerry Leiberman (James Eckhouse).
In the opening of the first scene, Bethany is 17-years old and loathes her parents who decide to send her off to Israel to a prestigious school that they hope will help her gain some discipline.
Once Bethany arrives, Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox haredi community becomes extremely appealing to her. She says she feels like she belongs because she is no longer surrounded by superficiality.
She becomes so involved to the extent of changing her name to Bakol. After several months, her parents don’t hear a word from Bakol, and they become worried and fly out to Israel to find her.
Mea Shearim, an actual town in Jerusalem, is where Bakol. In this ultra-Orthodox Jewish community women aren’t allowed to wear red, show their arms, neck line, or any part of their legs, or speak to men in public. These acts are considered sins along with electronic devices and the Internet.
After a meticulous search, Bakol is nowhere to be found, her father becomes hopeless and decides to fly back to Los Angeles but her mother stays behind to continue the search.
The incessant search of Bakol by her mother takes the audience through a journey in which questions about culture, religion, the clash of ideas and beliefs between the West and the East.
In the end, there’s the question of whether it’s Bakol or Bethany who will be found. Meanwhile, her mother and the audience also are also transformed by the unforgettable, eye-opening journey of this search.
Perhaps it can be argued that it isn’t just Bakol who her mother is looking for but she’s also looking to prove her love for her daughter, Bakol. Perhaps redemption and a second chance is what she is after.
In the end, the audience will be captured by the perseverance of the female characters whose unpredictable quest revolves around love and struggle between a mother and daughter, self-discovery, tolerance, spirituality and the ultimate backbone – love.