Ofra Daniel wrote and stars in “Love Sick,” a world premiere based on an ancient Hebrew love poem. (Courtesy photo)

Ancient poetry, erotic desire inspire ‘Love Sick’

“Love Sick” is poetry, storytelling, concert and a dramatic presentation.

“There’s no word for it in English,” says Ofra Daniel, its creator.

The playwright, actor and director from Tel Aviv, who moved to the Bay Area nine years ago and formed the bilingual Jewish Circle Theatre here, translated and adapted parts of the ancient Hebrew love poem “The Song of Songs” (a traditional component of Friday night shabbat services, author unknown) to create this English-language musical about a woman’s sexual awakening.

It get its world-premiere this week in Berkeley, the moves on to Mountain View.

She also composed the music in collaboration with San Francisco-based musician Lior Ben-Hur, and stars in it as a woman driven to madness by her erotic desire for a man (played by musician Ali Paris).

A chorus of four “women of Jerusalem” scold her for her wanton ways.

Daniel had never paid much attention to the “The Song of Songs” until she was searching for fresh material for a series of monologues based on Israeli poetry.

She was struck by the text: “It’s sexual, noble, and the female voice is very profound. … gorgeous.”

In the original, man and woman exchange yearning poems and never meet. The woman at times calls him “my uncle” and says “I wish we were twins nursing from the same breast”; he refers to her as “my sister, my bride.”

“It’s almost incestuous, says Daniel, adding, “This is so ancient but so free, and [these bold sexual expressions] coming from a woman!”

Translating the poetry into English for “Love Sick,” Daniel, who has re-imagined it as a sort of Jewish “Romeo and Juliet,” created a narrative in the form of a story within a story.

The lovesick central character is a homeless woman in a refugee camp in modern-day Tel Aviv. Surrounded by a tribe of musicians (on bass, guitar, zither, woodwind and drums) and the disapproving chorus, she describes being driven out of the sacred city of Jerusalem, where she had been wandering the streets naked in the middle of the night seeking her lover.

With parents who come from Iraq and Libya, Daniel drew on her own musical influences — Arabic, Klezmer and flamenco (the latter is found in Ladino music) —
in composing.

Broadway and West End director Christopher Renshaw is at the helm, with choreography by Matt Cole and musical direction by composer Yuval Ron.

Who is the woman’s elusive lover? At the end of Daniel’s story, the secret is revealed.

Love Sick
Where: Osher Theater, 2055 Center St., Berkeley
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, plus 2 p.m. Jan. 15 and 28, closes Jan. 28
Tickets: $25 to $54
Contact: lovesickmusical.com
Note: The show moves Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View from Feb 23 through March 12.

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