Society's ugly underbelly

In Alma Ganihar's 'Wild West,' stories of Israel's trafficked women are given a voice on the stage.

wild west play 88224 (photo credit: )
wild west play 88224
(photo credit: )
The women in Alma Ganihar's very moving new play, Wild West, are composites, modeled on those the playwright and the actors met when they were researching the subject, but the fictional and the real have two things in common. They are whores and they are afraid. Directed by Sinai Peter at the Arab-Hebrew theater in Old Jaffa, Wild West is a drama with no happy ending. It is a tale of relentless fear, exploitation, helplessness and evil. It follows a few months in the lives of five women, their masters, pimps, minders and clients at the Wild West Club and other venues. The women, all from the former Soviet Union, are prostitutes and the property of Moscowitz, for whom they represent a very lucrative business. Never mind that they are essentially trafficked commodities. There's Sonya, raped at 12, sold and resold, and trusting in no one and nothing. There's Anna, whose dream is to go to America and start afresh. There's Alexandra who thought she was coming to Israel to work in a hotel. There's Natasha, who so wants a child that she blinds herself to danger, and there's Svetlana, a druggie and the bearer of grim tidings. "These women are not placards," explains Ganihar. "If we see them at all, it's from our own safe cocoon, and we cross over to the other side of the street, but the play brings us into their living room as it were, and forces us to see them as three-dimensional beings with hopes, dreams, failings; it shows us that it could be us, that it could be anybody." According to Ganihar, the situation in Israel has improved somewhat over the last decade, but trafficking continues. These women are virtual slaves, sometimes literally imprisoned in the flats and "clubs" where they receive their clients. Their passports have been taken, they "owe" their importers the money for their passage, their medical care, their keep. They are frequently physically and mentally abused; in the whole of Israel there is one shelter for those with the raw guts to escape "and we'd better not say where it is because it would endanger the women," says Ganihar. The play's structure was influenced greatly by In Foreign Parts (Am Oved, 2004), Ilana Hammerman's book on the trafficking of women, and "in particular," continues the playwright, "by [Hammerman's] thesis that the mainstream world supports this trade, not just the criminal underworld; the lawyers, the accountants, the landlords, and the clients..." Mickey Prosak plays the Big Boss, Moscowitz, and Moshe Ashkenazi his no less vicious sidekick, Abed. The whole cast graduated from the Seminar Hakibbutzim this year and the play was their final year project. The class was divided into working groups, brought back their findings to class, and the play was built in part around the material they collected. "We all knew of the issue," says Prosak, "but we didn't know about it. We met them all - the pimps, the law, the women, and the more we found out the more we were revolted. We did some of the scenes for the women in the shelter who laughed and cried, and said it was all very true. One even told me that I reminded her of her pimp." Ashkenazi is a comedian with a stand-up act, and is used to audiences "who like me, so to be the bad guy is very difficult. The audience gets very different vibes from me, which is why I try to make Abed likable, and that's even worse." Prosak's actor-like attitude to his role is that "I'm running a legitimate business. Business is business. There's no place for sentiment." He hesitates a moment and adds "we all have dark places. I mine those in me." Ganihar has the last word. "A friend asked me 'why are you writing this play?' I answered, 'to show people reality... To bring these women forward, to bring them into the light, and to do it through art.'" 'Wild West' will be playing at the Arab-Hebrew Theater on December 23 and 24.