(photo credit: Brian Negin)
Queen Alexandra has a street named after her in downtown Jerusalem (Shlomzion Hamalka), and now she will be brought to life on stage in her former kingdom.
Thursday and Friday, the play The Maccabee Queen will be performed at Beit Avi Chai in Jerusalem as part of the Stage One Amateur English Theater Festival.
Written and directed by Lauri Donahue, the play chronicles the rule of the last queen of Judea.
Before Donahue and her husband, Rabbi Barry Leff (chairman of Rabbis for Human Rights), left Los Angeles to spend a year in Israel in 2000, she was sitting in a movie theater reading Josephus’s The Jewish War while waiting for the film Gladiator to begin. During the wait, she read the portion of The Jewish War that mentioned Alexandra.
“I thought, ‘How come Shakespeare never got hold of this stuff?’”
Donahue recalls. “It was so dramatic and over the top, it seemed very
Indeed, the play’s poster spells out a Shakespearean plot: “A woman of
faith and courage, Alexandra survives two murderous husbands, civil war
and foreign invasions to rule as the last queen of Judea – with the help
of her ally, Cleopatra III of Egypt.”
During Donahue and Leff’s initial 2000-2001 stay in Israel (they made
aliya in 2007), the second intifada broke out. The terrorist attacks
endured by Israelis had an impact on Donahue while she was writing the
play. “I was struck by the parallels of terror attacks that targeted
women and children then and now,” says Donahue.
The Maccabee Queen references gruesome acts of terrorism inflicted upon
this country’s Jews over 2,000 years ago by Ptolemy IX of Egypt. He
invaded Judea, killed women and children and then ordered his soldiers
to make soup from the victims’ bodies. In the play, upon hearing what
Ptolemy IX had done to the Jews, Cleopatra III, his mother, says, “What
courage does it take to kill a child?” and “He will not buy a throne
with babies’ blood.”
In a nod to Shakespeare, The Maccabee Queen is written entirely in
iambic pentameter. “Iambic pentameter is a remarkably natural meter to
speak in – people will occasionally fall into it without realizing it,”
says Donahue, who notes that a simple line like “What courage does it
take to kill a child?” is an example of iambic pentameter.
Originally entitled “Alexandra of Judea,” The Maccabee Queen has been
the subject of three staged readings but never a full-fledged production
until this week. The first reading took place in Jerusalem in 2001. The
play, published by Baker’s Plays in the US, was also read by actors in
Vancouver and Cleveland, where it won an award from the Mandel Jewish
Community Center of Cleveland’s Dorothy Silver Playwriting Competition.
Alexandra, who lived from 139-67 BCE and is mentioned in the Talmud and
Dead Sea Scrolls in addition to the works of Josephus, will be portrayed
by Danit Stemmer in this week’s productions. A graduate of New York
University’s Tisch School of the Arts, she has been in Israel since
Stemmer recently appeared in two shows at Merkaz Hamagshimim Hadassah’s
Center Stage Theater, which is organizing the festival along with Beit
Stemmer, also the assistant director of The Maccabee Queen, is the cast
member with the most acting experience and training. Donahue’s husband
and their daughter, Katherine Leff, are also in the play.
Donahue is surprised that Alexandra, the last Jewish ruler to die while
Judea was still independent, is not as well known in the modern-day
Jewish state as strong women of the Bible such as Deborah, Sarah, Judith
“While Alexandra is not a biblical figure, she was a member of the
Maccabee family and is one of only two queens who ever ruled in her own
right in Judea,” says Donahue. "She is quite well regarded by Josephus
and is mentioned positively in the Talmud. Given that she is a figure
who ruled in her own right and led a victorious army and is considered
very virtuous and brave and so forth, why isn’t she a feminist icon
here?” Donahue asks.
The Maccabee Queen will be performed Thursday at 6 p.m. and Friday at 12
noon at Beit Avi Chai (44 King George Street, Jerusalem). For more info
visit www.themaccabeequeen.com. Tickets are available by calling (02)
6215900 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.