Current and compelling: The Israeli Theater tackles crucial topics

The International Exposure of Israeli Theater it a play a 16-year-old victim's testimony.

"Demonstrate,"part of The International Exposure of Israeli Theater, hosted by the Hanoch Levin Institute of Israeli Drama (photo credit: DAVID KAPLAN)
"Demonstrate,"part of The International Exposure of Israeli Theater, hosted by the Hanoch Levin Institute of Israeli Drama
(photo credit: DAVID KAPLAN)
It is possible that if the case upon which Daphna Silberg’s play Demonstrate is based were tried today, the proceedings would go down differently. Perhaps because of the current political and social climate, the rising awareness of sexual harassment and violence towards women and developing etiquette in questioning procedures, a 16-year-old victim of a gang rape would not be requested to enact specific moments from the most horrendous night of her life. However, Silberg is not 100% certain that much, if anything, has changed. Although the trial took place nearly a decade ago, Silberg believes that the legal culture allowing for such a scenario is still very much alive.
“These things are happening right now behind closed courtroom doors. They happen every day,” she says.
Silberg came across the story of the young woman in question about two years ago.
“I was watching the TV program Hamakor (the Source) hosted by journalist Raviv Drucker. He had covered the case, which took place in Jerusalem in 2008. Something about it caught me. I am always interested in situations in which the individual is up against society or a system. And hearing the recording of the girl’s testimony really resonated with that interest of mine. You can hear her being questioned for over three hours. First by the State’s representation, then by the defense. You can barely hear the girl’s voice the entire time. The lawyers lose their patience with her and start asking her to ‘speak up.’ At the end of this lengthy recording, the defense attorney asks her to demonstrate the positions in which her four assailants held her down to determine the truth to and technicalities of her claims,” Silberg recounts.
Following the demonstration, the charge was reduced from rape to harassment.
“I wanted to look at how that happened. How is it possible that grown men, educated men, could request that of a young girl, a traumatized victim? I didn’t want to say, ‘Oh, these awful judges’ but rather to look at the conditions that allowed for this to occur. There is a system in place that allows for something like this to happen, and I wanted to examine that system and bring it to light,” she explains.
This month, Silberg will present Demonstrate (which premiered earlier this year) as part of The International Exposure of Israeli Theater, hosted by the Hanoch Levin Institute of Israeli Drama. The event, now in its 16th year, is a platform for original Israeli theater productions. Over the course of five days, new plays will be presented to the foreign guests under three categories: New trends in drama; Sexual trauma as a creative force; and Adapting novels into drama.
Unlike many theater productions, there was no playwright involved in Demonstrate. The text is all taken from the victim’s testimony and questioning, which Silberg edited down to an hour and change.
“Not one word in there is mine,” she says. “There were clear sections in the trial, and I tried to stay with them. Any time someone did something in favor of the victim, I tried to help her and left it in. I had no interest in presenting a one-sided story. I wanted to present the trial as it was or as close to it as I could get.”
The area where Silberg did invoke creative license was in the casting.
Instead of keeping with the gender of the participants, she flipped the roles around. The victim in her take is male, while the judge and lawyers are female.
The performance in Exposure, which will be held for curators and theater programmers from around the world, will mark a new signpost for Demonstrate, adding to a list of venues that already includes the halls of the Knesset.
“We were invited to the Knesset to sit in on a debate about court proceedings regarding sexual violence,” says Silberg. “It was a big honor to be asked. There were around 70 Members of Knesset present, and then they played five minutes from the play. I was in shock. Afterwards, there was total silence in the room,” she says.
Presenting the play to foreigners will undoubtedly evoke different responses than Silberg has received until this point.
“It is not a local problem; this is something that happens all over the world. I think there is an awakening now in the whole world about these issues, and I feel that this story must be told. It’s important to me to give it a voice,” she says.
Daphna Silberg will present ‘Demonstrate’ at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on November 28 as part of the International Exposure of Israeli Theater.