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Jewish Journal

A Writer’s Road

by Naomi Pfefferman

April 1, 2004 | 7:00 pm

"I don't ever read reviews," playwright Jessica Goldberg said. "I'm too sensitive ... I'd rather not know."

The revelation is surprising, considering that the soft-spoken Jewish dramatist hasn't had so many bad reviews. Her edgy yet entertaining work has often earned kudos since one of her Juilliard student pieces caught the attention of a Taper producer in 1998. At 31, Goldberg is already a veteran of that elite cadre of young female playwrights, which includes Annie Weisman and Amy Freed. But perhaps her early success exacerbated the usual writer's insecurities, she said at a rehearsal of her provocative new play, "Sex Parasite," for Taper, Too.

"When one is younger and has less of a sense of oneself," she said, "there's a lot of self-doubt.... You go through rejection and you have to figure out how to love your work beyond the reviews."

Goldberg became curious about how other female artists had grappled with the problem throughout history. Eventually she discovered the Victorian-era revolutionary feminist Olive Schreiner, who became the heroine of "Sex Parasite."

Like Goldberg, Schrenier had catapulted to an early literary success. An ex-governess from rural South Africa, she became the toast of London after publishing her radical debut novel. In later works, Schreiner outlined her theories that women are as sexually passionate as men and that women who don't work are merely "sex parasites," living off their husbands. Yet the feminist hid aspects of her sexual past in order to be accepted by high society.

To enhance the character's outsider status, Goldberg played up the fact that Schreiner had Jewish blood. She partly based her protagonist's relationship with an upper-crust scientist on the doomed interfaith romance between 1920s Jewish novelist Anzia Yezierska and famed educator John Dewey.

"'Sex Parasite' [explores] how one survives in a world that is totally in opposition to who you are," said the play's director, Chay Yew.

In the end, however, the character's journey reflects Goldberg's own.

"The play explores issues of self-acceptance," she said.

"Sex Parasite" plays April 4-18 at the Ivy Substation in Culver City. For tickets, call (213) 628-2772.

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