Ofra Daniel leads an ensemble cast of international artists in the world premiere of Love Sick. Photo: Cheshiredave Creative

A rare world premiere musical in Berkeley, Love Sick is the impassioned fable about a woman’s erotic love affair and the price she pays for it. But Love Sick defies classification as a typical musical. Its text is primarily the love poetry of the ancient Hebrew text, The Song of Songs, yet it is distinctly modern in its original international music and creative movement and dance.

Gifted writer, adaptor, co-music creator (with talented Lior Ben-Hur) and star Ofra Daniel (Edges, Kassit in Tel-Aviv, Secrets Behind Closed Doors) first transports the audience to modern day Tel Aviv. We meet her character, Tirzah, as an old and mad woman whose only spoken words are words of love. The remainder of the play shifts to ancient Jerusalem where we learn of the origin of Tirzah’s love sickness. Young Tirzah is married to an older fisherman whose entire being seems to be imbued with the odor of his catch. Eventually, lonely Tirzah falls under the spell of an anonymous lover. Tirzah’s transformation from a lonely woman to an animated sensual being is stunning.

The enchanted Middle Eastern and flamenco music (music director Yuval Ron) and voluptuous dance are vital and spectacular aspects of this 80-minute experience. The talented Ali Paris, who has performed with a multitude of stars including Alicia Keys, Quincy Jones and Ashton Kutcher, beautifully plays the qanun, a rare 76-string zither, while the rest of the terrific musicians and the four singers who act as the Women of Jerusalem are all inspired.

Jointly produced by Berkeley’s Jewish Circle Theatre, in association with John Gertz Productions, Love Sick is ably directed by the accomplished Christopher Renshaw, who has directed productions from the Royal Opera House to Broadway. The Osher Studio, set up as a thrust stage, with seating on three sides of the theatre, is intimate and well-designed by Erik Flatmo, with a stark tree trunk in the rear and several crates that serve as moveable furniture and props.

Love Sick’s plot is a tad confused and seems a bit of an afterthought when compared with the music and movement, although it’s just enough to keep the audience’s interest in seeing the play to its surprising conclusion. It’s the talent of the cast and musicians that makes Love Sick very special, especially Ofra Daniel, a bundle of energy and sensuality with a beautiful singing voice.

A play title with “sick” in it gives critics easy opportunities to skewer it with pun-filled jabs, but Love Sick is so enchanting and engaging that I can’t use any of them. Instead, I encourage a visit to the Osher Studio before the last Berkeley performance, scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 28.

Love Sick plays through Jan. 28 at the Osher Studio, 2055 Center St. For information, extended dates and tickets, visit the Love Sick website.

Emily S. Mendel

Freelancer Emily S. Mendel reviews Berkeley’s vibrant theater scene for Berkeleyside. As a native New Yorker (although now a 37-year East Bay resident), Emily grew up loving and studying theater, from...