Ms. Graf is a multi award winning playwright whose works have appeared throughout the country. Recent plays include: NO WORD IN GUYANESE FOR ME (2012 GLAAD Award Outstanding L.A. Theater); BEHIND THE GATES; LESSONS (dir by Gordon Davidson); LEIPZIG (LA Drama Critics Circle awards and nominations/Writing and Lead Performance; Garland awards Playwriting and Lead Performance; Dorothy Silver finalist; THE BOOK OF ESTHER (San Fernando Valley Artistic Directors nominations including Best Play; ASK Theater Projects Grant Award); BETHANY/BAKOL (Attic Theater One Act Winner, produced September 2009); THE CROSS AND THE SABER; SHANGHAI GHETTO; L.A. TALES; ZENO’S PARADOX; and her newest, CLOSELY RELATED KEYS.
Recent award winning one acts: SOPHIE/ALEXANDER/LISBOA; ASHES TO ASHES; A HOLLYWOOD FABLE; LESTER AND SCHLOSS; REPORTS OF MY DEATH HAVE BEEN GREATLY EXAGERRATED
CLOSELY RELATED KEYS:
Set to open February 2014: A young woman’s carefully constructed life begins to crumble with the appearance of an Iraqui half sister-a devout Muslim-who has fled Iraq, arriving in the U.S. with a seemingly strange and questionable agenda.
Julia Dolan seems to have it all. She is a smart, savvy, attorney whose career is on the rise, and she has seemingly broken any barriers of race in her life as well as her career. She is in a romantic relationship with Ron, a member of the firm, but she insists on keeping it secret. Ron wants more, but Julia keeps him at a distance, also keeping much of her past hidden from Ron and most of the world.
Her father, Charlie Dolan, from whom she is estranged, shows up and reveals a shocking secret-Julia has a half sister from a relationship Charlie had with an Iraqui woman in the 80s. This is the woman Charlie left Julia’s mother for, but before he could send for her, she was murdered for consorting with an American, and the baby Neyla disappeared and was assumed dead for all these years, which is why Charlie never disclosed this to Julia. But Neyla has found him on Facebook and wants to come to the U.S., seemingly to study Western music, as there are no Western music schools in Iraq, and Neyla is a violin prodigy. Julia is horrified, angry, betrayed and threatened, wanting nothing to do with Charlie nor Neyla. But Neyla shows up unexpectedly at Julia’s door a week early, seemingly with her own agenda, and from here Julia’s world and its careful construction begins to crumble.
With Neyla’s arrival everything Julia has thought to be true about her family and about the world is challenged. Painful memories and events haunt all of the characters, ones they can no longer keep secret. Shocking revelations that challenge all the characters’ beliefs unfold, and together they find they must face the ghosts of the past and construct a new future.
ASHES TO ASHES:
Awarded First Place and presented in 2010 FirstStage One Act Festival, ASHES TO ASHES tells the story of DEBRA , who is is approaching a milestone birthday. She just sent her last child off to college, faces an empty nest, feels disconnected and us questioning the meaning of life. Polish shtetel born Grandma Minnie’s ashes have been stored in an exterior house paint can in her mother’s basementfor 37 years. Debra wants to return Grandma Minnie to Poland/Russia/Lithuania, restoring her to her “native soil‚” while, at the same time, hopefully “connecting the dots of family history, getting a sense of who I am and where I came from.” After opposition from her mother yet armed with a handful of Grandma Minnie’s ashes tucked into her diaphragm case, Debra is off on a Jewish genealogy tour to what is now Belarus to search for her roots and restore Grandma Minnie to her native soil.
BEHIND THE GATES:
Behind the Gates deals with what happens when a seventeen year old American girl goes on a school trip to Israel and disappears into the haredi community. Her parents must journey to Israel to search for her. The play explores the status of women in the Orthodox world, the Babel of languages and lack of communication between parents and children, the yearning to be seen and heard and accepted, and the journey of self discovery.
Bethany Leiberman is an angry, rebellious, disenfranchised American teenager searching for acceptance and identity. She has turned to drugs, sex, and cutting school in order to fill the hole in her soul and a terrible longing to be loved and understood. She has been an enormous challenge for her parents, Jerry and Susan, with whom she has an increasingly disintegrating relationship. They are at a complete loss as to how to deal with her, how to parent her. Finally, as a last resort, deferring to the parenting advice of the therapist and their friends, they ship Bethany off to a summer program in Israel. Resentful at first, Bethany finds herself drawn into the haredi world of the ultra Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem, as it appears to fill the hole by offering the community, identity and family she has been craving so intensely. Ripe and suggestive, longing for conviction and the relief of absolutes, she is approached one Friday afternoon by a zealous, charismatic rabbi, seeming to merely be extending hospitality to a stranger. Bethany becomes completely absorbed into this world, changing her name to a Hebrew name, adopting a new identity, cutting off all contact with her parents, and ultimately disappearing into the haredi community. We see her transform from Bethany to Bakol.
Leipzig is a multi award winning play which explores the journey of a three-member Irish Catholic Boston family when the mother descends into Alzheimer’s and begins praying in Hebrew, unwittingly revealing her long-held secret that she is Jewish, a child refugee of the Holocaust. Past and present collide in a psychological homecoming that raises deep and ultimately moving questions about identity. The play is a beautiful exploration of religious identity, loyalty, parental bonds and attendant feelings of safety or threat. It is a plea for inclusion at a time of fear and religious polarization. Leipzig was both a critical and audience success in its first production that ran from October 20-December 10 2006 at the Marilyn Monroe Theater at The Group at Strasberg in Los Angeles. It played to sold out audiences and starred veteran actors Salome Jens, Mimi Kennedy, and Mitchell Ryan. It was directed by Deborah Lavine, head of the film directing program at Cal Arts, who has directed over 200 theater productions. Leipzig is a play that generated much thought and discussion and received great press attention. Two of the actors, Salome and Mimi Kennedy, did a lengthy interview with Backstage West (www.Backstagewest.com) titled “Politics and Art”. We had many interesting groups come to see it with talkbacks after. We hosted evenings with the Interfaith Council (ICUJP), a Progressive Democrats of America fundraiser, and we even had a group from the Muslim Public Affairs Council, including Samer Hathout, who recently won the Los Angeles Humanitarian Award, causing so much controversy in the Jewish Community, Anthony Saidy, and Salamal-Marayati. We had a wonderful and stimulating talkback that afternoon between them and a group of Jewish senior citizens.
Warmly received by Los Angeles critics, Lessons unites an older man and younger woman who teach each other a thing or two, in an entirely platonic way. Ben is a retired sneakers manufacturer, recovering from his wife’s death and guilt associated with her final passage. A Jew in name only, having no faith, no roots, and no family, he starts studying Hebrew before a trip to Israel and ends up training for the Bar Mitzvah he never had. His teacher is a divorced, disillusioned rabbi, Ruth, who has given up her faith and retreated from the community. The process of instructing Ben finally gives Ruth a new lease on life, too. LESSONS is a touching, funny, and “affecting and uplifting” two person drama that asks whether healing and forgiveness can be found when one’s beliefs are questioned.
THE BOOK OF ESTHER:
An award winning play that is a comedic look at Jewish assimilation in America. Wendy Graf’s comedy focuses on a central character named Mindy, who, like Queen Esther, bravely declares her Jewishness in the face of opposition. Unlike Esther, Mindy doesn’t save the Jewish people, but confronts her ardently secular family and friends when she discovers her religion. Young Mindy and Adult Mindy are portrayed by two different actors, who sometimes share the stage. Young Mindy was raised by somewhat self-hating Jewish parents – they sent her to a Christian Science Sunday school. The spiritual void of her childhood follows young Mindy into adulthood. After a ’70s-era fling with guru-style enlightenment, Adult Mindy settles down, marries and has children. When an acquaintance dies, the rabbi’s comforting words and in-depth knowledge of the departed has Mindy questioning, “Who’s going to know me when I die?” What follows is a rapid engagement with Orthodox Judaism, plunging her Christmas tree-decorating family into chaos. Torn between her mother’s distaste for “those real Jew-y Jews on Fairfax Ave.” and her Chasidic mentor’s “Ya wanna do it right, or ya wanna do it all facockta?” Mindy searches for a balance of tradition and contemporary life.Throw in a fashion-conscious friend who disapproves of Mindy’s tzniut-conscious style, a daughter who expects presents for the holiday of Shabbat, and a brief argument with Santa Claus, then “The Book of Esther” becomes at once an introspective quest and a whimsical contemporary tale.
NO WORD IN GUYANESE FOR ME:
No Word in Guyanese for Me tells the journey of Anna, who is made to choose between her identity and the support and love of her family and her precious faith. From her childhood in Guyana to her adolescence in pre and post 9/11 New York City, from a disastrous arranged marriage to her sexual awakening and discovery that there can be someone for whom she is enough, Anna struggles to come to terms with her sexual identity, her devotion to her faith, and the right to be accepted for who she is while adhering to her family and her faith. Her faith and family test her, and finally Anna must give them the choice: accept who she is-a gay Muslim-or lose her forever.
Poetic and lyrical, the play is a beautiful exploration of religious and sexual identity, clashing cultures, loyalty, hopes and dreams, parental bonds and attendant feelings of safety or threat. It is a plea for understanding and tolerance at a time of fear and religious, moral, and political polarization. But mostly “No Word in Guyanese for Me” is about communication and unconditional love: the difficulties of it, the search for it, and the desperate need to be heard.
THE CROSS AND THE SABER:
The Cross and the Saber, which takes place in a mythical neo-fascist country fighting an unpopular and unjust war, explores themes of theocracy and Christian fundamentalism.
Based loosely on fairy tales, L.A. Tales is a comedic collection of tales of La La Land.