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TBA Online: News & Features: April 2018

Manifesting Creativity with "Love Sick"

Wednesday, April 4, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Rotimi Agabiaka
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by Emily Wilson

Ofra Daniel, an Israeli native and founder of the Jewish Circle Theatre in Berkeley, wasn’t seeing a lot of young people at the theatre—hers or others. Because she loves theatre so much, Daniel wanted to change that. So she started thinking about where she did see young people going—concerts. This led Daniel to write Love Sick, the winner of the 2018 Will Glickman Award, honoring the best new play to premiere in the Bay Area in 2017. The prize, which comes with a $4,000 purse, is administered by Theatre Bay Area and will be presented at the closing plenary session of TBA’s Annual Conference on April 30, at Freight & Salvage in downtown Berkeley.

Along with writing the script, Daniel co-wrote the music for Love Sick with Lior Ben-Hur. She says she doesn’t think of it as a musical though, but as a play with music, a kind of hybrid, which literally puts the music center stage.

“When I composed the songs, I made them three and a half [minutes] each, like on a record,” she said. “The band is on stage, not in a pit or off in the corner, and I chose musicians who are expressive and give a good show, and they bring their own fan club.” 

Ofra Daniel in Love Sick. Photo: Cheshiredave Creative.

Love Sick, about a young woman in a passionless marriage who falls in love with an unseen admirer,  comes from an unusual source—the poetic Old Testament book, “The Song Of Songs.” Daniel, who says she is not religious, heard it read at Friday night synagogue and found its poems inspiring. 

“It’s seen as a love song between God and the people of Israel,” she said. “In all the Bible, you will not find as strong a female sexual voice as in this book.”
As she and a friend translated the biblical Hebrew in “The Song of Songs” into English, Daniel was struck by its “perfect poetry”. She had to have imperfect characters, she says, when she invented a narrative for Love Sick.

The play, which Daniel also starred in, opens in the streets of Tel Aviv with a barefoot old woman reciting ancient poetry. She tells people she couldn’t stay in her marriage.

“It was a matched marriage and her husband was a fishmonger who could not speak and always smelled of fish,” Daniel said. “Then one day she got a sensual poem.”

The character of the old woman has gone crazy, and there’s a certain freedom in that, Daniel said.

“Whenever she walks through the streets and sees homeless people, they look at her and she looks at them,” she said.

Daniel points out that she doesn’t want to romanticize poverty but thinks that losing everything can sometimes make a person less frightened. During the play, the old lady transitions to her younger self to tell the story.

“I love playing the old woman,” Daniel said. “I can look audiences in the eye and be bold.”

Daniel says the theatre makes people more willing to suspend disbelief and accept the story they’re being told. It makes them look at others in a different way, she says.

“For an hour and a half, the people you’re seeing are not people with jobs and relationships who have gone through divorces,” she said. “You’re just going to be in that zone and imagine them in the world of the play.”

Daniel moved to Berkeley from Israel 10 years ago with her ex-husband, who came to study at the University of California. She decided to start the Jewish Circle Theatre to build bridges between Israeli and Jewish cultures using what she knows and loves most—theatre and acting. She serves as both the company’s artistic director and executive director.

“In hindsight, I can say it’s my calling,” she said. “I have three kids, so I’m a full-time mother as well. ‘Work against gravity’ is my motto.”

Daniel, who also teaches private acting classes in Palo Alto, says she learned how to run a theatre on the job.

“We, as women, have to be good in many fields,” she said. “When I was starting the theatre, someone said to me, ‘Have you ever run a nonprofit? Do you know what it involves?’ I said, ‘No, I’ll just learn how to do it.’”

Her character in Love Sick is discovering her sexuality, Daniel said, but is also learning to manifest her creativity.

“This character dreams of loving passionately and escaping her role,” she said.

The positive critical response to Love Sick and the Will Glickman Award feel like important validations of Daniel’s creativity. “It’s a great affirmation when you try something and people respond positively,” she said. “I don’t want to be like Van Gogh. That poor guy had to die without knowing there is validation.”

Emily Wilson writes for print, the web and radio. She also teaches at City College of San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter: @ehw415