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New play by Ben Engel explores complex life of King Solomon

WEST HARTFORD – Famed lover or ruthless killer? Sage or sinner? Kingdom builder or kingdom destroyer? In his new play, “Philosopher King,” which will be staged at The Emanuel Synagogue on Sunday, Nov. 4, 7 p.m., Ben Engel explores the many conflicting facets of King Solomon.

According to Engel, a West Hartford resident and a member of Emanuel, the play’s title, “Philosopher King,” refers to Plato’s ideal ruler, one who uses a philosopher’s education and love of knowledge to craft a vision of good for his country and skillfully steer the ‘ship of state.’ King Solomon, a son of King David, combined wisdom, wealth, and power to build and rule his kingdom in Israel. At first he succeeded. Later, however, he lost his direction, and so the stage was set for his downfall.

“The spark [for writing “Philosopher King”] was reading that King Solomon began his reign by killing his political enemies on orders of King David,” explains Engel, who combines a playwright’s storytelling skill with a scholar’s research, to reveal the drama in the life of a man who slaughtered his political enemies yet wrote some of the world’s most beautiful love poetry.

“Philosopher King” is Engel’s third play examining biblical stories and themes. His first play, “Jacob and Esau: The Birthright. The Blessing. The Confrontation,” was also staged at the Emanuel and marked the debut of The Emanuel Players.

Engel’s second play, “Rabbi of the Stars,” highlights dramatically the most famous conflict between Rabban Gamliel and his fellow on the Beit Din, Rabbi Joshua, regarding reports about the appearance of the new moon of Tishrei. Like “Jacob and Esau,” it too was staged at Emanuel to a sell-out crowd.

An attorney with Rogin Nassau LLC in Hartford, Ben Engel began writing in elementary school and originally pursued a career as a newspaper reporter and editor in Kentucky and Connecticut. Close to 25 years ago, he began to take an interest in the works of the ancient Greek authors, and in recent years, in the great Greek tragic playwrights.

In 2012, Engel learned that the National Hellenic Museum in Chicago was staging a recreation of the trial of Socrates as a fundraiser, with a cast of the city’s leading judges and attorneys and a jury of distinguished Chicagoans.

“I instantly saw that we could do an Emanuel fundraiser based on ancient Hebrew history,” Engel says. “Right after that, I realized how much I would love to write a play,” Engel told the Ledger in a 2014 interview.

Tickets to “Philosopher King” are $18 in advance, $25 at the door. For information visit emanuelsynagogue.org or contact clctstamps@comcast.net.

The Emanuel Synagogue is located at 160 Mohegan Drive in West Hartford.

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