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An ultra-orthodox soap opera

There is a powerful play trying to emerge from a script spinning its wheels over at the Adolph & Rose Levis Jewish Community Center in Boca Raton.

Naomi Ragen's "Women's Minyan" gets a competent staging there by the West Boca Theatre Company. The problem isn't the cast -- more about that later -- but rather that it's a show that tries to hold its big reveal close to its bosom for close to 90 minutes of a two hour show (with a 15 minute intermission).

By the time it comes around, we've long arrived … with the rest coming off as melodrama, not unsuccessful melodrama mind you, but soap opera-ish nonetheless. And there's little director Shari Upbin can do about the pacing problem other than layer on a nice elegiac effect of a violin and clarinet playing in the klezmer style from a back corner of the room, helping to smooth transitions and underscore where exclamations might otherwise be jarring.

Based on a true story, "Women's Minyan" is set in the ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem where Chana (Jaime Libbert-Smith) has been accused by her rabbi husband of having an affair with a woman. She is ostracized and, worse even than that, is banned from seeing her 12 children. But Chana, in quiet desperation, has appealed to civil court for a writ. Now she faces a phalanx of female relatives and neighbors, pleading her case of years of domestic abuse to the nine women forming a pseudo-minyan, a bit of a contradiction since a minyan is a quorum of 10 men needed for public prayer service or other communal acts.

The 10-member all-woman cast is all over the place with regard to stage skills, often lacking the dexterity to keep key scenes from crumbling under the weight of longish one-note passages in script. And some of the less experienced actors have yet to learn how to breathe into their dialogue, trying instead to get it all out there onstage before memory fails, as if reciting a favorite poem from childhood that has ceased to resonate in adulthood.

Ah, but there is one moment repeated throughout the show that rings true…over and over again. That's when the women take individual oaths to listen to Chana's side of the story. Just a few seconds of pared-down, scrubbed-clean, non-acting (the harsh lighting softens and deepens to signal its coming), but that is when "Women's Minyan" radiates power.

"Women's Minyan" runs Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays through Dec 16 in the Beifield Auditorium at Levis Jewish Community Center, 9801 Donna Klein Blvd., Boca Raton. Tickets are $20 (discounts for groups and season tickets) at 561-852-3241 or

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