by Ed Malin · November 7, 2013
The 4th annual UNITED SOLO THEATRE FESTIVAL is at Theater Row on 42nd Street October 3 – November 24 with 121 productions. Indie Theater Now Playwright Ed Malin looks at Arafat in Therapy and Married Sex I am now going to review two very different one-person shows which have visited United Solo 2013.
Jeremie Bracka's fine 70-minute solo show Arafat in Therapy includes dozens of characters from several countries as well as Tomi Kalinski's spirited piano accompaniment. I realized I had seen the Australian-born Bracka's piece Enough About Me, Let's Talk About Jew when it landed at FringeNYC back in 2007, and this piece is even better.
Bracka, who studied law and has lived in Israel among other places, has seen many sides of "the conflict" and uses a plethora of voices to talk about the Middle East with grace and charm.
Immigrating as a young man from Melbourne to Israel, Jeremie encounters some amusingly overweening Jewish types, such as the school dance instructor who explains "the Hora is how we show we love Israel" (the poor lad has two left feet) and the uncle who pushes his family to succeed by sardonically recounting history: "In 1967, Moshe Dayan occupied all of the West Bank with one eye". Rebelling in the only way he can find, Jeremy goes to Morocco for a few months to study Arabic, an aspirated language, he opines, for which asthmatics have a clear advantage. His outgoing teacher really does sound like Yogi Bear. From there, he gets involved in human rights work, but has a lot to learn. The phrase "Jewish settlers" brought to mind nothing more controversial than Canadians.
Jeremie realizes that often how you say something makes more of an impression than what you're saying. Politicians keep cropping up to illustrate this assertion. There are those countries that dislike the U.S., and so insert language inimical to Israel into any old U.N. resolution, such as those about sporting events. As Bracka relates, a day at the U.N. is like a political episode of the Muppets. And then there is the Israeli leader Shimon Peres, who is focusing on everything but the Israeli counterattack. In a therapy session which he shares with Peres, former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, asks for clear boundaries, such as the 1967 boundaries. When asked about his hopes for peace, Peres says he's been praying at the Western Wall for years...and it feels like he's been talking to a wall.
Finally venturing into the West Bank, Jeremie meets folks whose idea of fun is going to Hebron for their honeymoon.
It's not all comedy, though. A variety of personalities weigh in on the senseless fighting and death in the region. Perhaps, for peace, the U.S. ally needs to be a little less Israeli and a little more Jewish. Director Pip Mushin should consider working at the U.N., since he can get the population of Bracka's head to co-exist onstage. In a political game that is far from simple (it's not football, after all) this show refuses to let anyone win...and I thank Bracka for it.
Laura Zam's Married Sex recently played FringeNYC, among other places, and is back to enlighten us about the challenge of connection. At the start of these 80 minutes, Laura's character, thrilled to be newly married in her 40s, is enjoying her honeymoon in Rome. With such a great husband, what could ruin her happiness? In the Sistine Chapel, staring up at the famous painting of the Almighty touching Adam's hand, she is conscious of being surrounded by club-wielding Italian police, reminiscent of the units that rounded up the Jews for Mussolini. Such symbolic thoughts make her realize she is worried about sex and sometimes unable to let it happen. Looking online, she finally puts the name "vaginismus" to this condition, which is when the pubococcygeus (PC) muscle spasms like a goalie working overtime and prevents intercourse. Many women are in this situation, especially those dealing with trauma. The remedy may very well be sex toys, sold by "sex-positive" women on websites.
It's a heartfelt journey, told with much humor, honesty and shyness, depending on which of Laura's many voices is doing the talking. Director Shirley Serotsky has surely helped to expose and harness such vulnerability to educate us. Sometimes, the awkwardness of an episode verges on funny when it isn't. In the program, which also refers you to Laurazam.com/blog, are resources for overcoming trauma and sexual pain.