June 2, 2024
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Irish Playwright Creates Off-Broadway Show Based on Oct. 7

It feels impossible to delve into a discussion of the Off-Broadway play “October 7: In Their Own Words,” without introducing you to Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney, the play’s writer and producer, respectively.

Both Irish born, McAleer and McElhinney created this play because “You can’t talk about Gaza without first understanding what happened in Israel on Oct. 7.”

Speaking to The Jewish Link, McElhinney explained, “We were in Ireland on Oct. 7, and on Oct. 8 people started to talk about the electricity being turned off in Gaza. So people started to talk about something else. As early as Oct. 8, they had moved on and we thought this is an incredibly unreported story.” Continued McElhinney, “This is the worst moment for Jewish people since the Holocaust, everyone needs to know.”

McAleer and McElhinney “went to Israel in November, traveled all over the country and met the most amazing people, 13 of whom are represented on stage in their own words by 13 actors.”

The dialogue of the verbatim play is based on the exact words obtained from eyewitness accounts of Oct. 7. Stated McAleer, “So here they are, people in their own words talking about that day. It’s the truth, 100% verbatim, we didn’t add any drama, no editorializing.”

As noted by director Geoffrey Cantor in his statement about the play: “We committed ourselves as a company to ensure that the authentic voices of these remarkable people are heard so that the audience might be touched by their humanity and extraordinary resilience.”

The characters in the play range from those who survived, to those who helped survivors, or were wounded, or fought back on Oct. 7. They range from young to old and secular to religious. They are all real people, from those who were at the Nova Festival to those with their family getting ready for Simchat Torah.

Undoubtedly, all of us reading this article have read much about Oct. 7, seen numerous video and audio clips of the day, and have even heard firsthand accounts of what happened. Yet somehow, this well-done play brings the day to life in a way many had not experienced before.

For example, one character spoke of getting ready for shul in the morning when he heard what he thought was thunder, but realized from the red alert sirens that there was something much larger than a storm brewing. Watching that slow realization occur in the mind of this character on stage is perhaps something we have previously read or heard about, but not something we’ve “witnessed.”

Then there is the character who wore white for Simchat Torah — a vision of purity — and an audible sigh emerged from the audience upon seeing that character later on in the play, white garb now red with blood.

One moment of dialogue even elicited laughter from the crowd. When Asaf and Uri had to distinguish themselves from the terrorists to the IDF and Uri was told to “Say something in Hebrew. Say the alphabet,” Asaf recounted that “Uri, he was so scared, so he just shouted ‘Alphabet, Alphabet!’” Continued Asaf, “This is, like, the most Israeliest thing to do. After that — they understood we are Israelis.”

It would be remiss not to mention the Irish duo’s comments on Ireland’s decision to recognize a Palestinian state. Stated McAleer: “This is why we need to remind people about Oct. 7.” Added McElhinney, “Every Jewish person that I [see], the man with the kippah, I honestly feel like apologizing, I feel like walking up to people and saying ‘I’m really sorry. They don’t speak for us, they don’t represent us.’”

Asked by The Link to address those who might feel that their anguish is too raw to contemplate seeing the play, McAleer remarked: “[The play is] not explicit, but it’s very emotional, it’s very moving … and there is a lot of hope and resilience.”

“October 7: In Their Own Words” is playing at the Actors Temple Theater in New York and runs through June 16. For more information, visit www.october7theplay.com.


Judith Falk is the creator of the Upper West Side Shtetl Facebook group. You can follow her on instagram @upperwestsideshtetl. She is a lawyer by day and a former legal reporter.

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