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Reviews of 
ON THE DOORSTEP OF THE CASTLE

 

By Erel Shalit, Jungian analyst, author of Requiem: A Tale of Exile and Return and The Hero and His Shadow.
5.0 out of 5 stars (Amazon) "An Intense and Meditative Drama"

I often find it difficult to read a play in book form. However, the gripping drama of Elizabeth Clark-Stern’s ‘On the Doorstep of the Castle’ comes across in a vivid and powerful way in this intense book.

The imagined meeting between the historical Teresa of Avila, and the fictional Alma de Leon carries the intensity of searching souls. There is beauty coupled with pain, for instance when Alma, the young converso woman seeks to become a Carmelite nun, “Such a lovely name. From the hermits of Mount Carmel [God’s Vineyard], in the holy land. It is said they drank water from the fountain of Elijah, lived on berries, their only concern, love. I have a cousin called Elijah. He fled in exile to Jerusalem when we were but thirteen. His family refused to submit to conversion.”

The meeting between the two, Teresa the real figure, and Alma, based on the Jewish philosopher Edith Stein, who converted to Christianity, yet exterminated in Auschwitz, movingly and deeply reflect the meeting of the Soul’s Voices.

Nearly every paragraph brings a different turn in their encounter, whether the Jew in the Christian and the Christian in the Jew, the feminine faces of the God-image, the teacher in the disciple, as well as the various aspects of exile and return.

Both figures in the play are captivating. Alma, so splendidly conjured up in the author’s mind, is a merger between Edith Stein and a fictional descendant of Moshe de Leon, author of the Zohar (the Book of Splendor), the central treatise of the Kabbalah. As the author points out, Alma is ‘soul’ in Spanish. In Hebrew, Alma is ‘maiden’ (like Kore in Greek) – pertaining to the concealed, hidden, unknown (virginity) – and perhaps, as well to the word for eternity (Olam, in Hebrew spelled like Alma). Quite pertinently, in Lindsey Rosen’s moving postscript, Alma turns up in a mysterious way, perhaps synchronistically.

Elizabeth Clark-Stern says so profoundly that as we arrive at a new developmental stage in our lives, we find ourselves ‘On the Doorstep of the Castle.’ This book/play takes place right there, in our search for “the innermost castle” (p. 65). This is a meditative book – read it!

By Robert L Bergman, psychiatrist, professor of psychiatry, author of MINDLESS PSYCHOANALYSIS, SELFLESS SELF PSYCHOLOGY (Seattle, WA)

Elizabeth Clark Stern starts us on the doorstep but takes us deep into a complex historical, political, spiritual and psychological world. We are in the Spain of the inquisition, the minds of a visionary saint and of a brilliant young woman searching for place and meaning after her world has been shattered. In their love and conflict they enlarge each other and create something greater than themselves as each shows the other previously unknown aspects of themselves and of existence in general. The account is transcendent and yet at the same time down to earth and convincing.

 

By Beverly Olevin, playwright and Kirkus Discoveries award winner (Los Angeles, CA)

5.0 out of 5 stars (Amazon) "An imaginative and provocative two-hander"

Keeping a play interesting and exciting with only two actors on stage is an enormous challenge for any writer. But Clark-Stern has created so much electricity and depth that the conversations of these two women are always riveting. Beneath the exploration of religious and psychological issues is the deeply touching story of their evolving and dynamic relationship. The imaginative and creative conceit of the interaction between a true historical character and a fictional one works to elevate the drama, adventure, and unexpected delightful humor evident from the first page. This story depicts a luminous time in history and is told with equally glowing language and passion. This is a most engaging and thought-provoking read ... I now hope to find and see a production of this play, as it promises to unfold as a marvelous theater experience.   

 

By M. R. Campbell (North Georgia)

5.0 out of 5 stars (Amazon) "Words that Dance on the Page"   

St. Teresa of Ávila (1515 - 1582), foundress of the Discalced (barefoot) Carmelites and author of Interior Castle about the soul's journey, is revered by the followers of many faiths for her dedication to church reform, a prayer-based mystic life, and a contemplative community of equals.
In "On the Doorstep of the Castle," Elizabeth Clark-Stern ("Out of the Shadows: A Story of Toni Wolff and Emma Jung") imagines a fierce and loving friendship between Teresa and a Jewish converso, the fictional Alma de Leon, between 1559 and 1579 during the upheavals of the Spanish Inquisition. The lives of both women unfolded in the shadow of a hierarchy that viewed them with suspicion for straying outside the confines of Catholic Orthodoxy. Teresa was persecuted by the church for her reforms and Alma, the fictional descendent of Jewish scholar and author of The Zohar, Moses de Leon, would face the wrath of the inquisition if her love of the forbidden Kabbalah were to become known.

Teresa: (reading) "Teresa of Jesus, you are henceforth ordered to cease the establishment of any new Discalced Orders. All Discalced sons and daughters are declared rebellious and disobedient, most prominently you yourself. . ." (Stunned, she drops the letter.) What else?

Alma: Can you bear it?

Teresa: If I can withstand the fires of the Devil, I can withstand this.

Alma: You are branded apostate, confined in the solitude of the Convent of Incarnation.

Reading these words, it's easy to imagine the play's premier with Elizabeth Clark-Stern as Teresa and Lindsey Rosen as Alma on a stage with minimalist sets, haunting guitar music and the play of darkness and light between the scenes, bringing back into the temporal world the spirit and relevance of a saint who lived over 400 years ago.

A note at the beginning of the book states that while dance was a central element in the original full production, the play can also be presented as a reading with the "text providing its own 'dance' of symbol, theme and characterization." This dance is, perhaps, the book's greatest triumph for even in a silent reading of the words from the printed page, Teresa and Alma console, debate and uplift each other in words and actions that feel like old and fondly remembered music.

In her "Biographical and Imaginal Origins of the Play" in the back of the book, Clark-Stern says that as she "allowed the characters to write the play" they both emerged as Amazons and as Medial Women who are "entirely human, filled with dread, shame, passion, doubt, a longing to belong, and to connect with a world larger than themselves." She says she was surprised at that. Perhaps readers will be surprised, too, that a Christian mystic and a Jewish mystic can simultaneously share a synchronizing harmony of transcendent focus as well as the hopes and fears common to all of us. Their humanity is a powerful foundation for their spirituality.

On the Doorstep of the Castle is more than a well-written book; it's an intuitively written book and an inspiring experience.

By Naomi Lowinsky, author of THE SISTER FROM BELOW, THE MOTHERLINE, and MARKED BY FIRE: STORIES OF THE JUNGIAN WAY (with Patricia Damery). Review from Naomi's "News From the Muse" (here abridged)

Elizabeth (as Teresa) and her colleague, the wonderful dancer Lindsey Rosen (as Alma), performed the play one evening. In the way of synchronicity I found myself weeping, not only because the play is extraordinarily moving, and Elizabeth and Lindsey are fine actors and movers, but because it hit on of so many of my obsessions: Catholicism, The Jews in Medieval Spain, The Inquisition, Conversos who are secret Jews, Kabbalah and the Feminine Face of God, Active Imagination and its earlier incarnation as mystical prayer.

The conceit of the play is fabulous. A young converso, Alma de Leon (Lindsey), who is a descendant of the famous Kabbalistic rabbi Moses de Leon, applies to become a novice under the tutelage of Teresa of Avila (Elizabeth), a Carmelite nun said to be “the most awake woman in Spain,” “a woman who receives raptures from God.” Alma is suffering from an “aridity of soul.” She wants to learn how to receive the divine. She also clearly needs a sanctuary from the dread hands of the Inquisition.

Teresa is able to convey the experience of being answered by an inner voice, by another who has a different point of view, a larger wisdom. Teresa prays to her God for counsel about whether to take in this young converso who knows Teresa’s secret and could betray her to the Inquisition. Should she take this risk? With Alma’s encouragement Teresa has the courage to write down her encounters with the divine, risking the fires of the Inquisition. With Teresa’s guidance Alma finds her way into her own Kabbalistic vision of the feminine face of God. The two women struggle with each other, support each other, go out into the world to touch the lives of the poor.

Elizabeth has the courage, the creative freedom, to bring together a historical figure, Teresa of Avila, and a fictional figure, a creation of her own imagination, Alma de Leon. She says:

“I was aware of the twentieth-century Jewish philosopher, Edith Stein, who chanced to read Teresa’s autobiography and realized it was what she had been searching for all her life. She converted to the Carmelite order, yet could not curb her criticism of the Pope, who turned the other way while the Jews were being led to the death camps from Italy. Her public denunciation eventually resulted in the Gestapo escorting Edith and her sister, Rosa, to Auschwitz, where they were exterminated in 1942. 

“I was so moved by this story I began to imagine a young Jewish woman, living in 16th century Spain, who, like Edith Stein, was searching for something to feed the longing of her soul. ‘What if Teresa and Edith met?’ I thought, with a sense of great excitement. I did not transpose Edith directly to the 16th century, but began to research the story of the Jews at that time. The character of Alma, Spanish for soul, emerged in vivid dreams and images from the dusty plains of central Spain. I tossed out my preconceptions and ideas about the story, and just let the characters guide me. Alma had Edith’s courage, but was not a philosopher. She was a woman of the senses, the earth, the arts.”

The figure behind the play, Edith Stein, struggled and died in the breach between her Jewishness and her Catholicism. In the way of synchronicity, I hear from Elizabeth that she and Lindsey will be performing the play in their home town of Seattle, in a church which houses a Jewish congregation in the basement. The minister and the rabbi are excited, because they have been looking for a way to bring their communities together. Elizabeth and Lindsey have created a bridge between the Jew and Catholic, the mystical and the quotidian. I felt my soul and my imagination reflected throughout their performance.

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