Theater can be entertainment and be delightfully distracting, but I think theater can and should comment on current events by setting the stage and letting it play out before our eyes.
I wrote Constructive Fictions at the same time the Rabbi Barry Freundel scandal was unfolding. I watched all the news coverage and read the court documents. What the Rabbi did by recording women in the bathroom was beyond comprehension. But there was no context for the story nor larger meaning to take away. The play was an attempt to frame the story so we understand the world that he lived in.
I grew up in the Orthodox community in Los Angeles, though my family’s own level of observance varied over time. I saw the absolute deference that Rabbis are given. It didn’t take long for me to understand the greater context and meaning of his crimes.
Rabbi Freundel was a man who was completely obsessed with the idea of “Who is a Jew?” He was head of the conversion committee and most of his victims were converts. There is a tension among the Jewish in Israel community playing out even now about who can do conversions outside of Israel. The Rabbi was one of the few who were allowed to do them. He was deeply concerned about getting his conversions absolutely correct, so they were beyond question. It was this pressure and tension that, I suggest, led him down the path originally. Though as his crimes compounded, all pretext was set aside.
Here was a man who was sailing into an easy retirement with his wife and a job he had for 25 years and he destroyed all of it. He is in the DC Jail with years to go on his sentence. He is divorced, with no place to live and being sued by his victims. He is hardly the first man to blow up his life through outrageous behavior. We only have to look at Anthony Weiner, whose exploits are, unfortunately for all of us, too well documented to see that a man can have everything but still risk it all.
I applaud Freundel’s former Georgetown synagogue for not just quietly retiring him. Letting him move to Israel and write, would have been simple. Bury the whole incident and not let the women know. But they didn’t. Videotaping women is a crime but sadly only a misdemeanor. It took a tremendous amount of courage to let the story out. In this one action, the synagogue showed more conviction than the entire Catholic church.
The play opens with Freundel in his DC jail cell where he sits for 6.5 years. He is praying. When he realizes that he is not alone. He is being watched by four accusers named after the matriarchs of the Torah: Rachel, Rebecca, Leah, and Sarah. The Rabbi is now forced to listen to their stories and tell why he did it but, perhaps his story is just another Constructive Fiction.
A.J. Campbell is a Jewish lesbian mom who writes articles and plays. She has written four plays in addition to Constructive Fictions: Why the Windows Don’t Open in Vegas, Drug U (a pharmaceutical musical) and She doesn’t have a prostate. She is currently working on an updated version of The Importance of Being Earnest with transgender characters and a story based on Lysistrata.
This is her first time at the Fringe Festival.