Esther (Esther Friedman), who is half black and half Jewish, recounts how her mother once beat her for playing house with an African American classmate and advised her to spurn black men because they "only want to get into your pants." Esther felt frightened by black men who called out to her in the street: "I built a white picket fence around myself," she says in the play. "I'll be walking to my car, and they yell out at me. And I'll flash back my 'look.' It's called, 'Back the f--- up. Don't come any closer. Don't even ask me my name because I will cut your b-- -- off."
"Objects" began four years ago when Friedman, who is in her 30s, wrote a solo show to explore why she wouldn't even speak to black men, much less date them. When she brought her work-in-progress to director Frank Megna at the Working Stage Theater, he suggested she develop extra scenes with Morell.
"I thought both women had a similar dynamic about how their pasts had influenced their relationships," he says.
The artists talked frankly about themselves as they improvised parts of the show. Morell -- now happily married -- remembered how she'd seek out "the troubled guys and try to be that 'special' person who could make them come around." Although she never dated a homeless man, she was drawn to "bums who looked kind of attractive, like they could have been from the 1960s. I found myself wondering, 'How did they get there,' and I'd want to get to know that person."
Friedman described how confused she felt about her diverse identities. On the one hand, her grandmother encouraged her to "pass" as white; on the other, she was perceived as black (and thus, alien) at Hebrew school. Her mother forced her to attend, stating that "Jesus was Jewish, and so are you."
"All the kids and their moms would stare at us when we arrived," Esther says in the play. "I asked, 'Mommy, why are they looking at us like that?'.... The kids made fun of me and said I wasn't a real Jew."
The play has proved cathartic for both actresses. "I kept many of these stories secret for years, because they were so painful," Friedman says. "But keeping secrets can kill your spirit."
"Random Sharp Objects" runs through Oct. 20 at the Working Stage Theater, 1516 N. Gardner St., West Hollywood. For tickets and information, call (323) 851-2603.