This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Forbidden love often finds itself on stage. In “Conviction,” an upcoming New Jewish Theatre presentation about a real-life, ill-fated romance, the stakes are particularly high.
“Conviction” is a story-within-a-story, set during the Spanish Inquisition, a period in which Jews were forced to convert to Catholicism. It centers on the true tale of a Spanish Jew turned Catholic priest who surreptitiously married and raised a family with a Jewish woman. After Father Andres Gonzales confessed his double life to a priest, he was burned alive.
The story is told through a fictitious 1962 scenario, in which an Israeli professor steals Father Andres’ nearly 500-year-old file, and is grilled in a more modern-day inquisition.
Ami Dayan, of Boulder, who adapted the book for this one-man show, plays each of these characters. Dayan talked with the Beacon about the play and how it relates to contemporary life.
St. Louis Beacon: How did Father Andres and Isabel meet?
Dayan: Someone saw Isabel’s family practicing Judaism. He put together a mob to go on a witch hunt to burn their home down. Andres Gonzales intervenes, saves them, and in the process falls in love with Isabel.
How do you personally relate to the story?
Dayan: I don’t mean to say I’ve been persecuted in ways that the characters have. But this is a theme that I’m involved with in most of my work, about political and social injustice.
In the early part of this century, politics were very based on church and faith, for example, with same-sex marriage. So, to me, the issues have not gone away -- the issues of freedom, freedoms of choice, the freedom to practice your religion and be outspoken about your faith.
When we were doing this play in Denver and then New York, people in different communities, such as the Latino community in Denver, completely saw themselves. The play is about persecution, the sacrifices some have to make for freedom. That is a theme that’s been around for quite a long time.
In what other ways can audiences relate to the play?
Dayan: The focus is a beautiful love story. Consider Romeo and Juliet, but between a Muslim and a Jew, or a Christian and Muslim, or a relationship between two men or two women. Striving to transform to a higher ground is definitely the heart of this piece.
How do you play these half dozen characters, both men and women?
Dayan: There are one-person shows where an actor comes in, he’s in one costume, and he goes out and changes into another costume. This is not one of those. It’s more about the vocal and physical and about body alignment. The staging clarifies who it is at every moment.
But there’s no attempt to change costumes, or put on a wig for the female part. The actor is just assuming these roles as he’s telling it.
What’s it like to become these different personas?
Dayan: Think about it: When you tell your child or your grandchild or any young child a story, you say something like, “And the witch said ... ” and you take on an “Ahhahaha” laugh like a witch. Your voice will go up or it will go down.
We do that very naturally when we tell stories. So this is like taking a couple of more steps in that direction.