Theater Review: Judge Deborah on the case

Judge! is a community theater romp that embraces the values of religious Judaism as exemplified by many residents of Gush Etzion.

Judge! play_521 (photo credit: (Rebecca Nathan Kowalsky/
Judge! play_521
(photo credit: (Rebecca Nathan Kowalsky/
Judge! Song of Devora
Raise Your Spirits Theater
Gush Etzion Community Center
Based on the biblical story of Deborah, the musical Judge!, presented by Raise Your Spirits Theater, is a community theater romp that embraces the values of religious Judaism as exemplified by many residents of Gush Etzion.
The show’s writers are intimately versed in the textual nuances of the story’s sources, delving beyond the text into the commentaries and Midrash.
Rather than simply tell a story, Judge! is a clear attempt to wrestle with ideas such as feminism in Jewish tradition and contemporary Israeli politics. These themes are clearly represented in the two plot threads within the play: Deborah’s character arc and story explores some feminist ideas but mostly thrives on its political overtones, while the character arc of Jael, who saves the day by killing the enemy general Sisera, is potentially controversial in its stretching the boundaries of what is acceptable in a Jewish woman.
Raise Your Spirits Theater, which performs only to female audiences, was created in the wake of the second intifada to rally the spirits of the Gush Etzion community, and Judge! is very much a community production, replete with local children in a variety of roles, clear-cut heroes and villains, and an unmistakable political message.
The inevitable high-minded seriousness that results from this combination is thankfully leavened with humor from the villainous enemies, played with high camp by Yael Valier as the swaggering, leering, hissing Sisera, and Sharon Katz as his bloodthirsty, overbearing mother.
The familiar dilemma, which is at least as old as Milton – namely, that evil characters are often more interesting – makes an appearance here: Every scene with Sisera is a joy to watch, with a real and hilarious personality emerging.
Other screen-stealers are Jael and her domineering mother, whose relationship is a brilliant commentary on the way in which religious girls are often raised with the exhortation to be “good,” i.e., marriageable, above all else.
Bayla Zinger as Jael’s mother brings a manic energy to her comic role. The obedient Jael, played by Avital Macales, has a crystalline voice and an intense inner conflict that will culminate in the tent with Sisera.
Judge! will most likely appeal to audiences who share the values that inform Raise Your Spirits Theater, and is a family-friendly production.