Samson and Delilah in the modern age: NU alumni present play ‘Delilah’ in Chicago

Sam, wearing a purple-blue shirt, stands to the right of the stage looking left, with purplish lighting. Behind Sam is a wall, including an eye at the top.

Photo courtesy of Justin Barbin

A projector shone fragmented images of Delilah on the back wall during their calls, including the eye.

Aviva Bechky and Kara Peeler

A single eye glowed from the top of a wall placed on center stage. For an hour and a half, the projection alternated between bright lips and a fire-truck-red door.  

That’s all the audience saw of the titular character in the NU-affiliated play, “Delilah.” A student working as a cam girl for money, Delilah (Kaela Rosenbaum, Communication ‘22) is fragmented and forced out of sight, her actor never fully appearing except for the side of her face or her hands popping into a window frame.

The play focuses on the themes encapsulated in that one set choice. “Delilah,” which opened on Friday at the Greenhouse Theater Center in Chicago, follows the relationship between graphic novelist Sam, played by Communication senior Ryder McDaniel, and Delilah. It wrestles with power dynamics, technology, toxic masculinity and dehumanization, all through Sam’s constricted lens.

Playwright and producer Niv Elbaz (Communication M.F.A. ‘21) based the play on the Biblical story of Samson and Delilah that explores love, lust and betrayal. He said he wanted to dissect the story’s stereotypes and bring Samson’s mythical strength into the digital age.

“When you’re making a connection or a relationship through a virtual landscape, you feel stronger. You feel like nothing can hurt you,” Elbaz said. “To me, that seemed interesting because it was another facade or shield of strength you put on, just in a more contemporary context.”

All but one of the “Delilah” team come from NU, be it current students or alumni. The play offered its cast and crew the chance to show their art in a professional setting in Chicago.

The 43-seat black box theater at Greenhouse was so packed Saturday night that some audience members sat on the stairs. The small stage featured a minimal set consisting mostly of a decorated wall with a projection, a mattress on the floor, a drawing desk and a side table. 

As characters sat on the edge of the stage to share glasses of wine, their legs stretched toward the front row. Whiffs of permanent marker also reached the closest audience members as Sam scribbled out art concepts.

“It gets an honest snapshot of humanity in not its prettiest light,” McDaniel, a former Daily op-ed contributor, said.

Pulling together the production took improvisation and not much time, Elbaz said. Actors rehearsed fewer than 10 full times before opening night, and Elbaz, an international student, left the U.S. for Israel on Sunday — the same day as the last performance of “Delilah.” 

McDaniel said they’ve been in productions that take months longer to produce but weren’t as put together as this one. He and Communication junior Lucia Padilla Katz, who plays Sam’s publishing agent, Laraine, had to balance both schoolwork and other rehearsals alongside “Delilah.” 

Even though the production came together quickly, Elbaz started working on the script five years ago. While he didn’t design it for Zoom, he said it adapted well to pandemic Zoom screenings — so well that in 2020, “Delilah” was one of five winners at the Panndora’s Box 14th Annual New Works Festival. 

“It’s just a very honest show because a young writer wrote it,” he said. “Even though it’s scary to me, I can appreciate that youthful rawness that I was able to tap into many years ago.”

Through story arcs involving Sam’s relationship with Delilah, Laraine and his friend Roland, (Christian Hill, Communication ‘21) the play tackles boundaries and what happens when they’re crossed — online, in the workplace and in the social sphere. 

“I want people to walk away and take stock of and examine the relationships and their life,”  Katz said. “What happens in this play is so subtle, which is what makes the writing so beautiful and makes it so complex, but so many boundaries are blurred.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @avivabechky

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @karapeeler

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