'Behind the Gates,' 'John & Jen' and 'Of Mice and Men' on stage

m BEHIND THE GATES

Behind the Gates by Wendy Graf opens with a marathon monologue by Bethany Leiberman, a troubled 17-year-old from the United States who is sent by her parents to spend the summer at a Jewish school in Israel. There she vanishes into the mysterious world of the Haredi, a sect so conservative that women are not allowed to make eye contact with men. She changes her name to Bakol and marries a 48-year-old man. The play tells her story and that of her parents who go to Jerusalem in a desperate effort to find their daughter.

"I think people will respond to the broad, universal theme of religious fundamentalism, whether it's Christian or Jewish or Islamic or whatever," says Karla Hartley, director of the production by Jobsite Theatre. "Everyone knows of that kid who ran off to become a Hare Krishna."

Danielle Calderon plays Bethany/Bakol in a cast that also includes Caroline Jett and Pete Clapsis as her parents. Behind the Gates opens with a private performance tonight hosted by the Tampa Jewish Community Center and Federation and then runs through May 26 at the Shimberg Playhouse of the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, Tampa. $28. (813) 229-7827; jobsitetheater.org.

OF MICE AND MEN

John Steinbeck's morality tale of male bonding in the Depression is getting around these days. First, Sarasota Opera staged the Carlisle Floyd opera based on the novel, and now Stageworks is doing the play, with Dennis Duggan as the simple Lennie and Nathan Jokela as his protector George. Of Mice and Men, adapted for the stage by Steinbeck and directed by Richard Coppinger, opens tonight and runs through May 19 at Stageworks, Tampa. $26. (813) 251-8984; stageworkstheatre.org.

JOHN & JEN .

Two actors, three characters — John & Jen is an intimate affair. It is also something of a marathon for the actors, especially Katie Zaffrann, who plays Jen in the Freefall Theatre production of the musical by Andrew Lippa (music) and Tom Greenwald (lyrics), with a book by both. From 1952 to 1990, Jen goes from being John's big sister to '60s hippie who falls in love with a draft dodger and moves to Canada to single mother. Over the same time frame, Chris Crawford plays the pair of characters named John: Jen's brother, who dies in the Vietnam War, and her rebellious son.

Zaffrann, 30, who played Little Edie as a young woman in Freefall's production of Grey Gardens, has been singing Hold Down the Fort, a song from John & Jen, in auditions for years. "I love the music in the show, but my favorite parts are when we are really engaged in these core relationships, sister and brother, mother and son," she says.

Crawford, 31, who had multiple roles in Romeo + Juliet at Freefall, thinks the Lippa-Greenwald musical, which premiered off Broadway in 1996, holds up well. "I don't think it has dated at all because these relationships are so universal," he says.

Directed by Freefall artistic director Eric Davis, John & Jen is early Lippa, who went on to write the music for The Wild Party and The Addams Family. The orchestrations are by Jason Robert Brown (a first-rate composer in his own right of shows that include The Last Five Years and Parade) for piano (played by music director Chris Brent Davis), cello (Melissa Grady) and percussion (Mark Younger).

The musical opens Friday and continues through May 26 at Freefall, St. Petersburg. $39, $46, with discounts available for students, teachers, seniors and military. (727) 498-5205; freefalltheatre.com.

John Fleming, Times performing arts critic

'Behind the Gates,' 'John & Jen' and 'Of Mice and Men' on stage 05/01/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 30, 2013 5:31pm]

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