Forbidden love in 15th century Spain

Posted 7/1/09

“Conviction,” written by Israeli playwright Oren Neeman, was a 2008 Denver Center Theatre Company commission and an award winner in Israel— …

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Forbidden love in 15th century Spain


“Conviction,” written by Israeli playwright Oren Neeman, was a 2008 Denver Center Theatre Company commission and an award winner in Israel— adapted by Ami Dayan and Mark Williams. Neeman’s play is based on the novel “Confession” by Yonatan Ben-Nachum, a story of faith and forbidden love during the Spanish Inquisition.

It is now playing at Curious Theatre through July 12, presented by Maya Productions,

In 1960s Madrid, under the repressive reign of Generalissimo Franco, an Israeli scholar, Professor Chaim Tal, is caught stealing a 15th century Inquisition document. He is confined in the office of a Spanish official, the scholarly director of the National Archives, who is seeking not only a confession, but an explanation. “Why this one? The police say you did it for money, but I think you couldn’t help yourself…”

Tal, played by Robert Mason Ham, refuses to answer and the frustrated archive director (Michael Shaloub) begins to read from the Inquisition file: the 1486 confession of one Andres Gonzalez, a priest.

It is written on small wrinkled papers, tucked into a folder within the neat official document. (The program carries a copy of an excerpt from that file, including Gonzalez’ signature, as well as brief but informative historical material about the Spanish Inquisition).

Lights shift across the stage, where Andres (Ami Dayan), a brown robed priest kneels in front of a confessional, speaking to Father Juan inside, who is an old friend:

“When I was a priest in Alcabdete, in Talavera, one Sunday, I was coming to the church to say mass and a farmer approached me— by the name of Fernand Alonso—” who had seen a woman from a Jewish household observing the Sabbath as a Jew— an act strictly forbidden under Isabella and Ferdinand, following a peaceful period of relative tolerance and cross-cultural exchange between Jews, Catholics and Moors in Spain.

“It would have been best for me later not to intervene, but I did,” he continued.

A story unfolds of a beautiful red-haired Jewish woman named Isabel Marquez (Julie Rada), and the instant mutual attraction between them, his reconversion to his original Jewish faith, and their hidden marriage and birth of a son, while he continues to perform as a priest.

Jews at that time were forced to convert to Christianity if they wanted to participate in society. They were called Conversos. Those who did not were expelled in 1492 and that edict remained until 1968.

Betrayed by his confessor, he was burned at the stake, as was Isabel. The fate of the son was unknown… or was it?

Which brings us back to the archives office…

“Conviction,” written with many lyrical passages including lines from 11th century Spanish Jewish poet Yehuda ha-Levi, is almost ready for its prime-time introduction.

Scheduled for an off - Broadway engagement in early 2010, it is co-directed by Jeremy Cole and Ami Dayan. Cole, who now lives in San Francisco, was a prominent director in Denver some years ago.

See this play for 90 minutes of uninterrupted totally engaging storytelling.

Conviction” by Oren Neeman plays through July 12 at Curious Theatre, 1080 Acoma St., Denver- presented by Maya Productions. PerformTickets: $20, 303-623-0524, Information:


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