Israelis explore womens sexuality in Hebrew Monologues

Though sexual liberation came to America decades ago, Ofra Daniel believes Israel has a long way to go when it comes to upgrading the feminine mystique.

Daniel hopes her Hebrew-language production of “The Vagina Monologues,” which she directed, constitutes one small step for sisterhood.

Jewish Circle Productions’ “The Vagina Monologues” will play Monday and Tuseday, Oct. 24 and 25, at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto. Though performed in Hebrew, English subtitles will be projected.

Ofra Daniel

Eve Ensler’s 1996 play shocked theatergoers with its graphic exploration of women’s sexuality. Touching on rape, masturbation, and, of course, female anatomy, “The Vagina Monologues” has been produced around the world. That includes Israel, where the national theater, HaBima, has staged it.

The original was written in English and featured American characters. But Ensler has always permitted theater companies some leeway with the text.

Daniel took that to heart  rehearsing with her cast — six Israelis living in the Bay Area, none professional actresses.

Why not cast pros? “That’s part of the statement of the play,” Daniel says. “Actors can perhaps do it more articulately, but for the community members to see real women of the community doing this play is a strong statement.”

To prepare for the production, Daniel and her cast met frequently to talk about body image and share their personal stories and sexual histories. It turned out that the stereotype of Israel as a freewheeling hipster paradise isn’t all that accurate.

“The fact that you see women dressed very fashionably in Tel Aviv doesn’t really represent what’s going on inside,” Daniel says. “I was really surprised even in our small group to see we’re still into shame and blame, and pretty conservative.”

At the same time, Daniel tweaked the  translation to make the play feel more Israeli. That started with the title subject.

“We use the word ‘vagina’ every 10 seconds,” Daniel says. “When we started seven months ago it was weird, but part of what the play says is that women don’t name their vaginas; they call them other names, like ‘down there.’ We were able to name it.”

She also rewrote some monologues to incorporate personal stories of the actresses. For example, the monologue about menstruation now includes a story that takes place in a popular Tel Aviv cineplex.

Israelis will get it.

This isn’t the first Hebrew-language stage work for Jewish Circle Productions. Daniel, who studied theater in Tel Aviv, co-founded the company four years ago after moving to Berkeley with her partner, Roni Alperin. Together they sought to create a Hebrew-language theater that bridged local Jews and the Israelis living here.

Over the years, the company has created original plays, children’s pieces and experimental theater works, some in English, some in Hebrew, some both.

As for “The Vagina Monologues,” Daniel hopes the show will engage audiences long after the curtain falls.

“I would be happy if men and women would leave the theater and have a conversation,” she says, “and ask what it’s like in our life. If they could, women would be free to talk about their experiences in a more open way.”

“The Vagina Monologues” 8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, Oct. 24 and 25, at the Oshman Family JCC, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto. $18-$30. (408) 318-7143 or www.jewishcircleproductions.com.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a J. staff writer. He retired as news editor in 2020. Dan can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.