The West Boca Theatre Company, and Producer Myrna Loman and Circle One Production present the play The Women's Minyan at Adolph and Rose Levis Jewish Community Center in Boca Raton. Written by Naomi Ragen, The Women's Minyan tells the story of a Haredi (ultra Orthodox) woman who, upon fleeing from her adulterous and abusive husband, finds that he has manipulated the rabbinical courts to deprive her of the right to see or speak to her twelve children. Based on a true incident, the original production opened in 2002, and ran for six years in Tel Aviv with Israel's National Theatre, Habima.
The Women's Minyan takes place in the contemporary world of ultra-Orthodox Jews, where dress and behavior for both men and women is clearly defined by stringent laws and customs. Their lives are centered around prayer and the study of the Talmud. It is a patriarchal society where large families are the norm, and women work outside the home to support their family so that their husbands may continue as full time Talmud students.
When Chana Sheinhoff, the wife of a rabbi and mother of 12, leaves her home to stay with a friend and business partner, the community's "modesty squad" tries to force her to go back. When she finally returns she finds that they have conspired to punish her. She has been cut off from her children against her will. She implores themthese 10 womento listen to her reasons for leaving, and asks them to sit in judgment of her, vowing to live by their verdict as to whether she may see her own children. The term "minyan" actually means a quorum of ten men. It is considered the smallest number comprising a congregation with the authority to decide communal acts. Because women have no authority in the public sphere, they cannot constitute a real minyan. But as woman to woman, mother to mother, and wife to wife, there is no one better qualified to sit in judgment of her, they defiantly form a minyan of their own.
At first glance the subject matter of this play seems one with which it would be hard to empathize, but the sincerity of the performances turned in by this cast drives home the powerfully written story. There is a great deal going on in this production that is right. Most importantly, the cast and director have successfully captured the relationships that anchor these women together. The production is hindered by the performance space, however. A raised auditorium stage that is straight across lacks the ability to provide much depth to the staging, particularly with ten actresses on stage. It also seemed to limit effective lighting options that might have enhanced the production. Obviously, thought went into other aspects, such as the live musicians providing music at key points.
There is an austere quality to Renee Rogoff as Frume Kashman (Chana's mother) that works well for the character. It is nicely contrasted by the grounded portrayal of Blanca Bassion as Goldie Sheinhoff (Chana's mother-in-law). Merry Jo Cortada captures the petty, self-centered character of Gitte Leah Kashman, without going overboard in making her childish and vindictive. She seems rather to never have outgrown her competitiveness with her sister. What comedy is to be found in this dark piece is artfully provided by Gail Byer as the nosy neighbor, Eta Leibowitz. The standout performance is by Clelia Patrizio as Adina Sheinhoff (Chana's sister-in-law). She masters the character's stutter to perfection, and erupts with the emotion of Adina's long-held secret in the second act with such honesty that it cannot help but tug at the heart strings.
Naomi Ragen is an American-Israeli Orthodox Jewish author, playwright and women's rights activist. As a columnist for The Jerusalem Post, she has especially active in the exploration of the struggle of Agunah (a Jewish woman who is "chained" in her marriage) to force rabbinical courts to alter convention divorce proceedings which allow their husbands to use the granting of a get (by Jewish law this is a divorce document which must be presented by a husband to his wife to effect their divorce) as an instrument of extortion. Ragen's other works include the books "Jephte's Daughter," "Sotah," "The Sacrifice of Tamar," "The Ghost of Hannah Mendes," "Chains Around the Grass," "The Saturday Wife" and "The Tenth Song."
The Women's Minyan will be appearing through December 16, 2012, at the Beifield Auditorium of the Phyllis & Harvey Sandler Center. The Sadler Center is located at 21050 95th Ave South, Boca Raton, FL. Show times are Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays at 7:30 pm, and Sundays at 2:00pm. General admission tickets are $20, with membership discounts and group rates available. For more information, visit www.onecircleproductions.com/.