April 12, 2007
Closing the curtain
I was cast as Reggie, a character LaBute added between the London and New York performances but who had her debut in Israel. Reggie is the sister of Guy's childhood best friend. She and Guy meet 15 years after Guy kissed Reggie in a not-so-appropriate way at her 12th birthday party. Understandably, the incident profoundly affected Reggie into adulthood. My scene captured her quest for closure.
To get into character, I decided to draw from my own life. The question was: Could a relationship I'd had with an Israeli serve as a model for a play that dissects the relationship habits of a "jerky" American? I asked LaBute by e-mail if Guy's behavior is categorically American, to which he replied: "I don't think American men corner the market on being jerks, but we certainly know how to make the market work for us. American men are usually better at 'smoothing over' their jerky side ...."
Indeed, looking back at my relationship with one Israeli man, there had been no "smoothing over" of anything. The closure was raw and real, just like the life-altering experience that had troubled me for so long.
Reggie "never spoke to anybody about it," and I, too, had kept silent. While our encounters were very different, both had aroused hurt, shame and confusion. By writing now about the experience, I'm acting out one of Reggie's fantasies. Also a journalist, Reggie comments: "This would make a hell of an article."
I met Israel, not his real name, at a karaoke bar in Tel Aviv. At the time, I was questioning my modern Orthodox lifestyle -- and I was vulnerable, curious, and, yes, hormonal. Israel was handsome, charming, muscular -- the picture-perfect, macho Israeli. He even worked as a manual laborer -- how sexy.
I invited him to the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv for our second date, and I kept telling him I couldn't understand why I liked him -- he wasn't this great intellect I had imagined I'd fall for. Needless to say, he was offended, and he began to toy with me, to tease me about being a virgin, to tell me about the wonders of sex. Talk about torture.
After a long, demented courtship, we did it. The act wasn't so tender or loving. He didn't stay the night. I didn't really care -- I was too physically relieved. I called him a few days later to see "what was up," and he just made crude jokes. Immediately, my self-assured satisfaction turned into upset and confusion -- and I balled him out for being so insensitive. I didn't see him again after that, and I decided to process this loss of innocence on my own, just like Reggie.
She held onto the memory of her first adolescent kiss and let it influence who she became. I can sympathize with her description of how she turned out: "smart, cute, hardworking ... sexually appropriate at a pretty early age, just making it some days, and other times off-the-charts and laser sharp."
As a reaction to sexual encounters we experience before we are truly ripe we often become more self-aware and more sexually active as a means to take back control of our identity and sexuality.
Back in Israel, four years later, I called Israel to, as Reggie put it, "clear the slate ... see if we could, I dunno, sort it out somehow."
We met at a coffee shop in Tel Aviv. I wore black slacks and an elegant, burgundy angora V-neck (a top I tried on as a costume) to assert my new, sophisticated, wiser self. Israel was still handsome, but shorter than I remembered, less muscular.
He told me he'd become a Scientologist. No matter what people say of Scientology, his new religion had definitely made him a better person. Sitting across from me was an emotionally intelligent, highly communicative and honest man.
The pace of our conversation perfectly mimicked that of the Reggie scene. I didn't bring up the looming "subject" right away, getting through small talk and memories before the conversation turned intense and tearful. Israel listened deeply and admitted to taking advantage of me, to avenging my snobbery and to fulfilling his thrill of "popping a cherry."
He eventually said "I'm sorry," which are also among Guy's last words to Reggie. Yet Israel was more forthright than Guy, and since I had been an adult at the time of our earlier encounter, he was able to press me to recognize my own failings in my dealings with him -- and with myself.
I left feeling exhilarated and gratified, almost as if I'd gotten my virginity back. Two-sided closure is wonderful.
Our reunion took place about six years ago, and while I am now completely at peace with what happened, and Israel and I are friends, I didn't stop making some bad relationship choices. There are still some men with whom I wouldn't mind having a long chat, but I doubt they could achieve Israel's level of sincerity. There are times when that notorious Israeli bluntness is a blessing. Ultimately, however, as Reggie suggests toward the end of the play, closure begins with taking responsibility for our own choices.
For now, I'll take my performance and the reflection it triggered as my vicarious, catch-all closure, and I'll be satisfied with that.
Orit Arfa is a writer living in Tel Aviv. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.