Oct. 7 Events to Be Depicted in New Stage Show

“October 7: In Their Own Words,” is based on interviews with survivors of the attacks.
April 18, 2024
Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney arrive at “Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer” Premiere at Saban Theatre on October 9, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Maury Phillips/Getty Images)

A new play, “October 7: In Their Own Words,” is set to debut in New York City in May. The play dramatizes the events of Oct. 7 using the word-for-word firsthand testimony of those who experienced it. While it is a play, the words spoken on stage are taken verbatim from interviews with survivors of the carnage. It is the work of Los Angeles-based Irish playwrights Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney.

This is not the first work they’ve created using transcripts. “Ferguson” from 2017, used grand jury testimony from the case of the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Missouri police officer Darren Wilson. Although Brown was unarmed and shot six times, the grand jury ultimately did not indict Wilson. 

McAleer and McElhinney are now taking on Oct. 7 deniers.

“We really want people to know the truth about what happened that day,” McAleer told the Journal. “So Jewish and non-Jewish audiences, actually, I think everyone needs to know and be reminded. One thing that we noticed in Israel was everyone is still obsessed with [the Oct. 7 attacks] and still reliving that day. But that’s not what’s happening in the outside world. And people need to know that.”

The play is based on interviews the playwrights conducted in Israel last November with approximately 25 individualswho were directly involved in or witnessed the events of that fateful day. While, yes, it is a play on the terror attacks of Oct. 7, there will be no fictional elements or composite characters.

“Why would you create a character when you’ve got one of the most dramatic days in history?”  McAleer said. “People have lived through the most extraordinary events, they don’t need anything added or subtracted. They don’t need to add drama and they don’t need editorializing.”

The play will feature 13 characters and be performed by Israeli or Jewish actors whenever possible. However, the playwrights acknowledged that if a world-class actor were to bring more visibility to the production, they would consider casting them as well. Their priority is to ensure that the story reaches as many people as possible.

McAleer and McElhinney said that the first thing they wanted to do in the play was to have the characters talk about Oct. 6. They want audiences to see that the people who were attacked were normal people with ordinary domestic issues and family issues, sick family members, and complicated relationships in and outside their homes.

“It’s just the normal to’ing and fro’ing,” McAleer said, with his thick Irish accent. “Especially since it was a holiday in Israel, people travel in for this. The normal to’ing and fro’ing of who cooked food, and how it was a special dish and all this. So the normal domestic back and forth of Oct. 6th. And then to show the horror that was visited upon these ordinary people in this extraordinary time.”

On the morning of Oct. 7, McAleer and McElhinney were in their homeland of Ireland.

“We noticed, and even our friends, on Oct. 8, they started talking about the electricity in Gaza and how terrible it was that electricity was being turned off in Gaza. There was a ‘need for a ceasefire,’ and all right away, Oct. 7, they were trying to forget Oct. 7. They were trying to push it down the memory hole and talk about something else.”

Even when they returned to the U.S., their dismay in the sentiments of their home country festered.

“We were quite shocked at how the media in Ireland were so effectively getting people to look at something else and not talk about this massacre,” McElhinney told the Journal. “And certainly they weren’t. And ordinary people were getting this, were starting to talk only about gas, about electricity, and we were shocked by that. That really compelled us to go to Israel and to talk to the people. We thought, ‘we need to tell this story and we need to find a creative way to do that.’”

Neither McAleer and McElhinney had ever been to Israel before. And their first visit was far from anything resembling a first timer visit to Israel. It was completely devoid of tourism.

“We didn’t even get to go to Jerusalem because we were so busy talking to people,” McElhinney said. “So we traveled up and down the country, north side, east, west, went down close to Gaza, went up to the north all over. We were everywhere.”

Their aim was to gather vivid firsthand accounts and create a compelling narrative that accurately portrays the truth.

During their three weeks in Israel, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar made a number of statements about the situation in Israel that McAleer and McElhinney thought were problematic. One statement in particular was about 9-year old Irish hostage Emily Hand, who was abducted by Hamas on Oct. 7 and exchanged for Palestinian prisoners in late November. Varadkar referred to Hand as merely “lost” and “found.”

“We were there when Varadkar made his nonsense remarks, it was something we had to contend with as we met people, explaining that not everyone in Ireland was like him,”  McElhinney said.

“Some people looked at us with suspicion when we said we were Irish,” McAleer added.

The playwrights hope that their play will not only educate and inform audiences but serve as a catalyst for dialogue and reflection, ultimately contributing to a better understanding of the events that unfolded on that tragic day. They are particularly concerned with how far off base from the truth with younger generations can become if their first impressions of the massacre continue to be distorted from reality.

“People love stories,” McElhinney said. “People are very moved by the heart, by what the heart tells them. And nothing changes people’s minds more than a story.”

While the play is set to debut in New York City, the playwrights have plans to take it on a tour of Ivy League campuses afterward.

McAleer and McElhinney answered several more questions for the Journal. The conversation below has been edited for clarity and length:

JEWISH JOURNAL: There seems to be lingering hostility towards Jews in your homeland of Ireland.

PHELIM MCALEER: That seems to be the case. We say sorry, but you’re right. There’s a hostility now to Israel and the Jews that has really emerged since Oct. 7. I mean, even when we were checking in at El Al, the lady at the check-in desk said, ‘I was supposed to go to Dublin to a Master’s; no way I’d go there now.’ Normally no one could name the Irish Prime Minister, but they were able to name the Irish Prime Minister after he made that statement about the hostage being lost and found. I mean, Ireland, normally when you go abroad, Ireland, when you say you’re Irish —

ANN MCELHINNEY: — Everyone’s eyes light up and they say, ‘oh, lovely! We love the Irish.’ Everyone’s eyes light up, but not in Israel.

PM: I’ll tell you, [in Israel] you have to explain why you’re not like all the other Irish people that you actually are interested in telling the truth.

JJ: Are there any composite characters in your play, “Oct. 7”?

PM: No. People who make composite characters for these ‘alleged’ verbatim dramas, the reason they’re making composite characters is because they don’t like the truth.

JJ: What do you hope will be the reaction?

AM: The granular aspect of people’s individual stories is what will make people sit forward in the theater and think, ‘oh my God, that really happened.’ When we heard survivors tell their stories, we just thought it was very much like, ‘wow, that’s a picture, true words.’ You can almost imagine you were there yourself. So we thought, yeah, that’s going to get included. But obviously you can imagine these stories are all 13 different variations of an extraordinary event.

PM: We don’t get overly carried away either with chronology, you can mess with the timeline a little bit just to keep the audience on their toes so people don’t know what’s coming next.

JJ: What do you say to the people who say, “how dare you make a play like this so soon?”

PM: One thing I will say is people in Israel think that everyone is obsessed with this story. And unfortunately outside Israel, they’re not. They should be. This is one of the most important stories of the decade, but there’s a huge concerted effort in the world to try and forget Oct. 7 to try and push it down the memory hole. If they want their story told and they want their story known, they need plays like this. They need this story told in every creative way possible.

AM: On the money front, we’re a not-for-profit. If we were able to break even, that would obviously be fantastic. But obviously it’s a very expensive production and we are looking for people to donate and our plan is to bring this play on the road and we plan to go to the Ivy League colleges in the fall. We plan to go to Harvard to Princeton. That’s our plan. This is a not-for-profit, a 501c3.

JJ: What’s been the reaction you’ve received from Jews you’ve told about this story?

AM: We’ve had a reaction from Jewish people. Again, quite a surprising reaction actually, I have to say maybe not surprising, but here in the United States people saying, thank you. Oh God, thank you for doing this, people. I had someone on the phone the other day basically almost in tears because she realizes how important, I think a lot of Jewish people in America are very shocked to be confronted by the antisemitism they didn’t realize was right next door. And we’ve heard

PM: Sometimes, literally, literally next door. 

AM We’ve heard many, many stories of people who have been deeply profoundly shocked, horrified, terrified, by the way is a word, right? Terrified by the fact that they have suddenly realized that, and we didn’t know, by the way, we’re Catholics, what do we know? But I certainly didn’t think the world was full of antisemites. I certainly didn’t think America was.

JJ: Why did you choose to open the play in New York City?

PM: It’s the center of the theater world. It’s where you tell stories in America these days, especially in the theater. There’s nowhere else. But as I say, after New York, we’re taking it on a tour of Ivy League campuses. Because you got to tell stories there too. I think people really need to hear the truth there as well.

The play “October 7: In Their Own Words” will be at the Actors Temple Theatre in New York City from May 2-June 16. For tickets, visit  www.october7theplay.com

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