“Fertile,” Israeli Stage’s first production of the 2016-17 season, puts forward provocative questions about gender, sexuality and identity. Featuring award-winning actress Ramona Alexander, the story is based on playwright Zohar Meidan’s struggles with infertility and the effect it has had on her identity as a woman. Although Meidan had a hand in telling her dramatic story, her friend and fellow playwright Yakir Eliahu Vaknin actually wrote the play and provocatively called the main character Fertile.
Fertile is born with a rare genetic abnormality that leaves her without a uterus. At various times her condition marks her as a freak of nature, a pitiable woman and a woman who is somehow less of a woman. “This will be our 22nd play in translation,” says Guy Ben-Aharon, Israeli Stage’s founder and artistic director. “So far we haven’t really tackled gender in the non-binary sense. We did have an all-female playwright season last year, but these were women who conventionally defined themselves as women.”
“Fertile” gives voice to many who are on the periphery of Israeli society. Ben-Aharon observes that: “Sexuality and transgender issues come up all the time in Israel. Having these conversations, we gain perspective when we see what these [subjects] are like in other societies and nations. And that’s a conversation worth having.”
In presenting the play, Ben-Aharon, who also directs the performance, doesn’t feel he’s pushing the envelope so much as he is engaging audiences to participate in an important, relevant conversation. He picked “Fertile” as the opening play to showcase what Israeli Stage events are meant to do: “To create a society and community that is more accepting and tolerant of the other.”
That mandate has guided Ben-Aharon in the selection of plays and playwrights he has brought from a complex Israeli society to Boston’s diverse audiences. He cites an example of a show about settler violence that was performed a few years ago. He noted that, “People showed concern when it was announced, but instead of threatening not to support the theater, many of those people joined the conversation and became a part of the show.”
Part of Israeli Stage’s success has to do with its “talk backs,” or dialogues with the audience, that cap every performance. It’s a unique feature of the non-profit’s presentations and has been lauded by audiences and performers alike.
“Fertile” will be publicly performed twice this fall in the Boston area. The first performance will be on Sunday, Sept. 18, at 7 p.m. at 170 Beacon St. The post-show moderator will be Dr. Joshua Safer, an endocrinologist and medical director of Boston Medical Center’s new Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery.
The play will also be staged at Temple Israel of Boston on Wednesday, Nov. 9, at 7:30 p.m. Joyce Antler, professor emerita of American studies and women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Brandeis University will guide the post-show discussion.