One Woman's Relationship With Text, Love, and the Bible

Writer Sarah Blau's one-woman show covers her life and relationships with men, but it's primarily about her relationship with texts – her own, as well as those she's still reading and trying to understand in the Bible.

Michael Handelzalts
Michael Handelzalts
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Sarah Blau in 'Thy Shall Write.'
Sarah Blau in 'Thy Shall Write.'Credit: Mikol Pietra
Michael Handelzalts
Michael Handelzalts

As I was getting into my car after seeing “Thy Shall Write,” I caught a snatch of conversation between a couple that had just left the same theater. “I read about it online and realized that...” he started saying before she interrupted him. “I’ll tell you ... it was good because she made it interesting.”

“She” is Sarah Blau, a writer who grew up in a religious home and who, besides her literary writing, has a public persona in which she speaks – on television and elsewhere – about various things. Mainly, though, about the world that has developed over generations in Jewish texts, including the Bible. And “it” is her one-woman play, in which she talks about (yet another) lover having left her to deal with a broken heart, just as she’s struggling to finish writing a novel inspired by Jael and Sisera, the biblical story from the Book of Judges. She tries to understand the biblical tale, to retell it and, by doing so, to also understand her relationship with herself and her loved ones, as well as wondering aloud about writing and its sources, dangers and comforts.

Blau is not an actress. She knows how to write and read the biblical texts. She has skill and experience in public speaking, though, and this is a big advantage. But the task she sets herself could have tripped up many a skilled actress: She is supposed to impersonate a character based on herself (a writer) that she wrote for herself, to be natural, and to give the audience the feeling that it’s peeking into the fictitious character’s most intimate moments (the work of her literary writing), which is shaped by a presenter who isn’t an actress. And she is alone for an hour – and that’s about as exposed on stage as one can get.

Against all expectations, Blau succeeds rather well. Indeed, I doubt if a professional actress could have pulled it off any better.

Stake through the heart

And, like the woman outside the theater said, it is “interesting” – even though the evening consists of a lot of biblical interpretations and there’s no dramatic action as such (Blau merely moves from place to place on stage, moving lighting stands around and talking about herself). The text is a field day for skilled readers: The young woman whose “iron back” and self-confidence win the heart of her beloved. However, with all her anxieties, she really has a platinum rod in her back, which, despite the pain and humiliation involved, saved her from being a hunchback. She talks about Jael, who drove a tent peg into the temple of Sisera (was he her lover who left and came back?) as she realizes that her own writing derives from the stake she drives into her own heart.

It’s intelligent, sensitive, brave, interesting – and evokes great admiration, especially for Blau’s willingness to expose herself this way and to overcome her inhibitions. “Thy Shall Write,” the title of the evening, is the natural appendage to the three verbs that sum up (it sounds better in Hebrew) the end of the beloved man who leaves and returns: “For he was in a deep sleep; so he swooned and died.”

The next performances of “Thy Shall Write,” written and performed by Sarah Blau, will be staged at Tmuna Theater on July 23 at 20.00.

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