Off-Broadway Review: OCTOBER 7 (Actors Temple Theatre)

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by Charles Kruger on May 13, 2024

in Theater-New York


After the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, the husband-and-wife team of journalists Phelim McAleer, playwright, and Ann McElhinney, producer, were concerned to notice that “good people were forgetting about what had happened in Israel that day.” They have an impressive resume of covering difficult stories in troubled lands including Northern Ireland and Romania; thus, they are highly qualified to develop a theatrical piece about that infamous date.

Jonas Barranca, Yair Ben-Dor

So they took on the task of interviewing eyewitnesses to those events and transcribing those interviews to create what they call a “verbatim play.” It is a play of witness that takes no overt political stand, and simply tries to show what happened, as directly as possible, in the words of the victims. The authors state, with moral authority, that “Audiences and the world should never forget these stories. October 7 changed these people; we think it also changed Israel and we think you can’t talk about Gaza without first understanding what happened in Israel on October 7.”

The cast of October 7

Whatever one’s views on the current war in Gaza, or the treatment of Palestine, or the desirability of a two-state solution, or questions about genocide and war crimes, this observation about the importance of personal witness is incontrovertible.

By sticking to eyewitness accounts and avoiding analysis (although the eye witnesses themselves have opinions which they express), October 7, which opened tonight at Actors Temple Theatre, cannot be taken as a either defense or condemnation of Israel’s response to the attack. It simply states, “We were here. This is what happened. It matters. Do not forget us.”

The cast of October 7

An extraordinary ensemble of fourteen highly skilled actors tell the story, as the actual experience of the attacks at the Supernova Sukkot Gathering, an open-air music festival, and the nearby Re’im Kibbutz is recreated by means of a terrifying soundscape by Jaime Osvaldo, effective lighting by Andrew Garvis and excellent staging by director Geoffrey Cantor. The costumes by Sara Tzipi bat Devorah are also effective in building the reality of these events. The effect is devastating.

The show begins at the music concert, with young people dancing together joyfully. This is an extended pre-show, lasting at least 15 minutes, which makes what follows all the more shocking.

The cast of October 7

The circumstances of the day are personalized with three stories which are centered in the play. Jeff Gurner plays Zaki, a religious Jew who breaks the Sabbath (perhaps the only time in his life) to drive his car to the festival grounds, repeatedly, to rescue as many young people as possible. There is also Hadas (the excellent Alyssa Simon) and her young daughter Mica (Rebecca Lynn Goldfarb, making her Off-Broadway debut) who remain in hiding in a safe room at the kibbutz for most of the attack, and Asaf, a young man at the concert who tries to lead his friends through mayhem to safety.

The cast of October 7

Every ensemble member deserves a direct call out; other cast members are Jonas Barranca, Yair Ben-Dor, Jenny Anne Hochberg, René Ifrah, Leora Kalish, Paul Louis, Marissa O’Donnell, Salma Qarnain, Randy Schein, Lynne Taylor, and Nathan Vincenti.

The play invests no time in political discussion, but there is some reflection towards the end, particularly as delivered by Zaki, the heroic driver. Unwilling to fully condemn the attackers, whom he feels have been poisoned by their leaders, he reflects:

“About the people who did [this]: I can’t call them people. I don’t know how to call them … I don’t know. Because there is so much hate in them that it is something I cannot imagine in a human … I cannot precisely explain how I feel about them.”

Salma Qarnain, Jeff Gurner

No more is said about history. October 7 is a snapshot in time, as remembered by eyewitnesses, It looks neither backwards nor forwards, but insists that we see what is there in the moment and demands that we care.

After the performance, I was moved to reflect on my takeaway. This play captured, remarkably well, the experience of terror. And it seems to me that terror is terror, whether at the hands of Hamas at a music festival or invading a peaceful kibbutz, or at the hands of soldiers and falling bombs in Gaza.

Marissa O'Donnell, Jenny Anne Hochberg

October 7 insists that we look darkness in the face, try to understand what is happening, and make no excuses. It is an effectively rendered eyewitness account offered in the interest of radical truth telling, and altogether admirable.

photos by Aaron Houston

October 7
Actors Temple Theatre, 339 W 47th
ends on June 16, 2024
for tickets, visit October 7 The Play

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