January 26, 2011
Every aspiring actor in Hollywood should have a mother like Tamar Youssefian Josephson.
Typically, if you meet a Hollywood agent at a cocktail party who wants to flack a client’s work, he’ll give you the elevator pitch (“Schindler’s List” meets “Star Wars!”), do a little schmooze and then slip you his business card.
But Josephson is not your typical Hollywood agent. She’s a doting, loving, over-the-top enthusiastic Jewish mother who, if she ever met the Queen of England, would probably hand her a promotional leaflet for her daughter’s new one-woman play, “New Eyes,” at the Firehouse Theatre in Sherman Oaks.
She did more than slip me a leaflet and her cell number the other night when I met her at an American Friends of Likud event in Beverly Hills. This was one of those high-octane gatherings where there was zero daylight between the speaker (Tzipi Hotovely, the youngest MK in the Knesset and a rising star in right-wing circles) and the audience. By the time the gathering was over, we were all ready to fly to Hebron and man the barricades.
Not Josephson. She had a different trip in mind. She wanted me to fly to the San Fernando Valley to see her daughter’s new show.
“You have to see this show, Mr. Suissa! You have to see it!”
The thing is, I’ve always had a weakness for fiercely passionate mothers. There’s something primal about a mother fighting for her child. I’m not sure God has yet invented a deeper attachment. So it didn’t bother me that this Israeli “ima” par excellence was interrupting an intense conversation in order to rave about her daughter’s show.
Still, I’ve learned never to say, “Yeah, I’ll come,” if I don’t really mean it. So I was honest and said, “I don’t think I can come.”
For this relentless Jewish mother, though, the word “no” was simply a request for more information. She was determined to get me to write about her daughter’s new play, and there was no way she was letting me go without a more positive commitment. In a stroke of selling brilliance right out of “Glengarry Glen Ross,” she blurted out: “Oh, and it’s good for Israel!”
Good for Israel? Hmm, crazy me, I always thought that to be successful in show business when dealing with the Middle East, you either have to be pro-Palestinian or pro-reconciliation; that is, you either have to play up the underdog or show how enemies can end up loving each other.
But a play that is unabashedly pro-Israel and can still, as Josephson proudly noted, get good reviews in liberal publications like the LA Weekly? That I had to see.
I made the winding trek through Coldwater Canyon to Ventura Boulevard last Saturday night, and guess who greeted me as soon as I got to the theater? That’s right, Tamar Josephson, all beaming and offering to feed me.
Now that I had shown up, I could see that she was taking her schmoozing to another level: “I hope you will write a good article about the show,” she told me. “When do you think it will come out?”
At that point, all I was thinking was, “God, I love this woman. Let’s pray that the show is worth writing about. If not, she’ll be on my case until Maschiach comes, and maybe even after.”
Well, you might guess by now that “New Eyes” was worth writing about. The performance I saw was packed, mostly with Israelis, and Josephson didn’t lie. The show is good for Israel. Not because it’s propaganda, but because it shows Israel’s human face.
And that human face is Yafit Josephson.
Yafit, who grew up in Israel and recently graduated from the University of Southern California School of Theatre, is the soul of the show, and boy, can she act. At the beginning of her play — a coming-of-age story in which she struggles to reconcile her show-biz dreams with her Israeli identity, while playing 18 different characters, some hilariously — she says something to a casting agent that stuck with me.
When the agent asks her why she wants to act, she answers: “I’m tired of seeing the world through my own eyes. I want to see it through other eyes.”
It’s a grand, evocative line, one you assume will be the theme of the play. But it’s not — it’s clever misdirection. By the end of her journey, after a series of Hollywood encounters that reinforce her deep insecurities and a redemptive visit back to Israel, Yafit (her mother calls her “Yafiti”) discovers not “other” eyes but her own eyes.
She makes peace with her “very Jewish nose” that her mother tells her is “the most beautiful in the world” and, not least, with her Israeli identity that is as rooted in her as her nose. The “new eyes” of the title, then, are really old, ancient eyes. They are the eyes of her people and the eyes of her mother.
Those very eyes caught up with me as I was leaving the theater. Not taking any chances, the mother of all Hollywood agents whispered in my ear: “I know a Muslim man who saw the show last week and really loved it. Do you want to interview him for your story?”