Stage Play Will Be Based on Verbatim Accounts of Hamas Attack on Israel

“They are bombing us. We are trying to escape.”

That was the text message Michael Zilberman received at 6:51 a.m. October 7 from his daughter, Rachel, who was attending the Supernova Sukkot Gathering, an outdoor music festival near the Gaza-Israeli barrier.

It was 90 minutes later when he woke and saw the message. He checked out Telegram, an app used by Hamas, and saw video of Rachel with a hole in her body. A medic in the Israel Defense Forces, Zilberman hopped in his car and raced to save her.

He was too late. Rachel was among the 364 festival-goers who were killed that morning by Hamas.

Now, his story and those of other victims will be told, in their own words, in a stage play set to open in New York in May before making its way across the country and, if the producers have their way, at Ivy League colleges where they say antisemitism runs rampant.

The play, dubbed October 7, hails from producers Phelim McAleer and wife Ann McElhinney, known for conservative-leaning movies like Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer and My Son Hunter, about President Joe Biden’s son.

The play is the latest in what the pair call “verbatim” theater, where they use direct quotes to craft their narratives.

Their previous efforts include turning court transcripts of the trial of disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein into a podcast. Prior to that, they created a stage play from verbatim text messages between former FBI operatives Lisa Page and Peter Strzok that they say indicated a deep-state effort to prevent Donald Trump from becoming president in 2016.

McElhinney said she was in Ireland the day of the October 7 attack, and by the next day, Israel was already being criticized for shutting off the power in Gaza. Thus, she and her husband traveled to Israel to conduct interviews in preparation for their play.

“On October 8, conversations around the world were already shifting to Israel being the bad guys,” McElhinney said.

“We got, like, 8 kilometers from the party. We saw bodies burning on the road,” an actor playing Zilberman will say in the play. “She was the perfect child, until f***ing Arabs, they, killed her.”

Michael Zilberman Phelim McAleer
Phelim McAleer, right, and Ann McElhinney, middle, interview Michael Zilberman, whose daughter was killed by Hamas on October 7. McAleer and McElhinney are producing a play based on verbatim interviews of Israeli survivors of the…

Courtesy of Ann McElhinney

The play is likely destined for controversy, as is usually the case for McElhinney and McAleer. In the play dubbed FBI Lovebirds: Undercovers about Strzok and Page, the theater that had been set to host the production, citing online threats of violence, backed out a week before it was scheduled to open, sending the producers scrambling for an alternative venue.

Another story October 7 will tell is that of a family who escaped out a window and hid on a neighbor’s roof, told from the perspective of the grandmother, Michal Bilia.

“We already heard the shooting inside our yard. And we hear the front door open; the terrorists are in the house and that’s the moment to jump,” an actor playing the grandmother of the family will say.

“Grandma, I have to pee,” her 8-year-old granddaughter tells her. “So, I told her, ‘You must do it here.’ So she peed there. All the time we sit quietly; we can hardly breathe but … I think to myself, ‘the savage below, he will come for me, he saw me.'”

One of Bilia’s sons was shot and killed that day, while the rest of the family was saved by an armed off-duty police officer.

“Everyone we spoke to witnessed death and destruction or lost a loved one, often right in front of them. Many of them fought back,” McAleer said.

The play, directed by Karen Carpenter with a cast that has yet to be announced, is set to debut in May and run for six weeks at the Actors Temple Theatre, a synagogue built in the 1920s that also operates as an off-Broadway theater. McAleer said he’s negotiating now with pro-Israel groups to bring the play to universities.

He and his wife conducted their interviews during a three-week trip to Israel in November and McAleer told Newsweek it’s the first time he has experienced hostility for being Irish, which he attributes to his native country’s support of Palestine and frequent criticism of Israel.

In November, for example, Israel lambasted the Irish ambassador for celebrating Hamas’ release of a 9-year-old Irish girl it held hostage with a post online reading: “An innocent child who was lost has now been found.”

“They definitely were standoffish,” McAleer said of the victims he and his wife interviewed. “They wouldn’t have spoken to us if we didn’t explain we’d be using their words verbatim.”

He added: “Israel is a country traumatized and no one has moved on, but the world is trying to move on. We’re trying to bring it back by telling stories that might otherwise be lost.”