Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
I just got a call from a spokesperson for Justin Bieber, who said the teenaged superstar appreciated my defending him in my previous post, “Justin Bieber Israel Drama: Give Bieber a Break.” But, the spokesperson added, the facts reported by some of the Israeli press (which I quoted) were incorrect, and Bieber would like to set the record straight.
Some outlets had reported that Bieber had had a meeting scheduled with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the night before his April 14 performance at Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park; that Bibi had taken advantage of the PR opportunity by inviting children who had been affected by the Gaza rocket fire to said meeting; that Bieber had subsequently declined to meet the children; and that Netyanyahu then canceled the meeting.
“There was never a meeting with [Netanyahu] actually scheduled,” the spokesperson, who asked to be referred to as “a member of Justin Bieber’s camp,” said. “We were talking about it but it never was scheduled.” The reason the meeting didn’t happen, he added, is because information kept leaking as to the logistics—and because the paparazzi situation had been so “brutal.” And since the meeting was never scheduled, “it was never canceled and it certainly didn’t have anything to do with the kids,” the spokesperson said. In fact, Bieber had already reached out to those children, and had invited them to be his guests at his concert on April 14.
Here’s a statement from Bieber’s people:
“Despite some logistical challenges, Justin is enjoying his first trip to Israel. Justin welcomes the chance to meet with kids facing difficult circumstances, regardless of their background, and in fact, he had already invited children from the Sderot area to be his guest at the concert in Tel Aviv on Thursday night.”
Here’s hoping that Bieber, a devout Christian who had been looking forward to “walking in Jesus’ footsteps,” can enjoy the rest of his first visit to the Holy Land.
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April 12, 2011 | 3:08 pm
Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
Headlines are buzzing that Justin Bieber declined to meet a group of children affected by Gaza rocket fire during his highly-publicized trip to Israel. And that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in response, canceled his scheduled meeting with the teenaged superstar, which was to take place the day before Bieber’s show at Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park on April 14.
To which I say: Give Bieber a break. Bibi Netanyahu took advantage of the public relations opportunity offered by his meeting with the global superstar to invite the children to attend, according to haaretz.com. Bieber apparently canceled after learning of this curveball. The singer is just 17, and he’s been burned before—thrust into political hot water when a Rolling Stone reporter—very inappropriately, I might add—asked the then-16-year-old to comment on abortion and other political issues.
Bieber has hinted about his feelings in several recent tweets: ” i want to see this country and all the places ive dreamed of and whether its the paps [paparazzi] or being pulled into politics its been frustrating,” one tweet read.
[Related: Rise of the Jewish Justin Biebers]
Other tweets stated: “i’m in the holy land and i am grateful for that. I just want to have the same personal experience that others have here” and “You would think paparazzi would have some respect in holy places. All I wanted was the chance to walk where jesus did here in isreal.”
While other artists have declined to perform in Israel for political and/or security reasons, Bieber and his mother, Pattie Mallette, a born-again Christian, were excited about visiting the Holy Land, Bieber’s manager, Scott “Scooter” Braun” told me in February, when I spoke to him about the documentary “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never. “Justin told me he wanted to rearrange his touring schedule because he wants to do seder in Israel,” Braun—who has become Bieber’s Jewish “father figure” —said in a phone interview.
When I asked if Bieber was going to visit sites such as Yad Vashem, Braun said, “He wants to see it all. And it’s not just him; I want to take the entire crew, put them on tour buses and let them see the country. And can I be clear on something? It isn’t just about going to Israel. If the right situation presented itself and we got invited to go to Egypt [note: Braun said this before the democracy-related unrest] or Jordan or any of these places, we’d go as well, because at the end of the day, music isn’t something that’s supposed to be held to one group or another.”
Bieber’s Tel Aviv concert is expected to draw some 60,000 viewers; let’s hope the experience proves a positive one for the young singer, who seems like a real mensch. He even recites the “Shema” with Braun before every one of his shows, in part, to make the Jewish members of his crew feel at home.
Bieber and his crew had been gathering in “prayer circles” before each performance, led by Mallette: “I felt like if we were going to say a prayer ‘in Jesus’ name, amen,’ that Dan Kanter [the show’s music director] and I, who are Jewish, should be represented as well,” Braun said. “We’d do the same if we had someone Muslim or Hindu in the group – we’re all-inclusive. So Dan and I would say the ‘Shema,’ and after the third show, as we were about to say it, Justin chimed in. I asked him, ‘What the heck was that?’ and he goes, ‘I memorized it.’ He was like, ‘This is something Jesus would have said, right?’ and I said, ‘yes,’ and he’s like, ‘Then I want to say it with you guys.’ I explained that it’s one of our holiest prayers, and that it means the Lord is one and he thought that was cool. He knows it’s in ancient Hebrew; he knows that Jesus would have said it and since Dan and I are every close to him, he wanted us to feel included as well. He’s a very special kid.”
April 8, 2011 | 6:39 pm
Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
Paul Reiser eyes his agent warily in an upcoming episode of “The Paul Reiser Show,” the writer-actor-comedian’s new half-hour comedy on NBC, which closely resembles his real life. In the scene, it’s been some years since Reiser’s megahit “Mad About You” went off the air, and the agent is gushing that he’s found the actor a great movie role. “Is he a Jew?” Reiser asks, suspiciously. “The nice guy, sweet husband, Jew?... vaguely Semitic – the implied ‘ethnicity?’”
Reiser, of course, is poking fun at himself, and at anyone who might typecast him as the kind of menschy husband he played on “Mad About You.” In that ’90s sitcom, he and Helen Hunt starred as newlyweds in a show that was also based on Reiser’s own experience.
The absurdities of life after superstardom figure prominently in his new series, as does Reiser’s psychotherapist wife (Amy Landecker of “A Serious Man”), his two sons and a circle of buddies thrust upon him either because they are married to his wife’s friends or are fathers of his children’s playmates.
Like Jerry Seinfeld most famously did, but also Matt LeBlanc in “Episodes” and Larry David in “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Reiser is the latest celebrity to create a comedy-as-self-portrait. David even appears in the pilot on April 14 to suggest that Reiser should be doing his own version of “Curb.”
At 54, Reiser – whose role in the ensemble cast of “Diner” (1982) kickstarted his career, is almost as well known for his autobiographical best-sellers, the latest of which, “Familyhood,” will hit stores in May.
He said any resemblance between “The Paul Reiser Show” and “Curb,” in particular, is incidental. “The impetus for this series was a very nice guy at Warner Brothers saying ‘We think it’s time for you to come back,’” he recalled. “And I very humbly said, ‘That’s so nice, but I don’t really want to. It’s hard – and why?’ But the guy continued to be very persuasive and flattering, and I am a sucker for that. So while I didn’t know if there was a groundswell of demand for me out there, I decided to go write and see what happened. And because I don’t know how to make things up, I kind of wrote my own life again.”
Reiser describes the premise early in the show: “I have everything I have ever dreamed of. The only problem is, I’m not dead yet.”
“If I were 97, my life would have timed-out perfectly,” he explained in a telephone interview. “But, hopefully, I have many more years left, so the question is, what do I do next?’”
While Larry David’s comedy hinges on his antisocial behavior wreaking absurd consequences, Reiser’s stems from good intentions that go horribly wrong. “‘Bad’ is funny,” Reiser said. In one sequence, his character is videotaped selling gift-wrap for a school fundraiser, which later appears on a website titled, celebrityhumiliation.com, in a segment that describes him as a broke and forced to sell goods out of his car for cash.
“There’s [another] joke where I say I’m just famous enough where if I were caught in a motel room with a coyote, it would be on TV,” Reiser said. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called a restaurant and thought, ‘Maybe they’ll know my name and we’ll get a good table’ – but, nope, the guy never heard of me. But if I got caught picking my hose at a red light, I’m just famous enough that there would be a shot of me on YouTube: ‘Former Golden Boy picking his nose.’ That’s the crazy reality of my life.”
Another unusual aspect of Reiser’s status emerges in that sequence about the supposedly “great” movie role: “I have such a peculiar relationship with my agents,” he said. “I love my agent, and he’s tickled he’s in the show, by proxy, but I said, ‘Did you notice the guy’s an idiot?’ I marvel at the whole agency; they’ve never found me a job, ever, since ‘Mad About You’s’ been off the air. I know that at this point in my life, I’m not going to be George Clooney, or Leonardo, but I can’t be that universally loathed… Yet to be fair, I have given them mixed messages: ‘Get me work, but I don’t want to to work too hard;’ ‘I don’t want to play my own familiar self, but I don’t want to stretch so much that I look terrible.’”
Reiser knows that observers are wondering why NBC delayed premiering his show; his wry response is that the old regime was in fourth place for a reason, and suggests that the recently appointed new one is smarter. “If you deliver the Jews, I’ll get everyone else,” he tells a reporter of his show. “I’ll go after the Methodists and the Catholics; I just need you to get me every Jew with a TV set in their house.”
The fictional Reisers are Jewish because the real ones are, too. Reiser grew up in the 1960s in Manhattan’s Stuyvesant Town, a heavily Jewish and Irish-American housing development on the Lower East Side, where the sound of hippies playing drums would waft in through the windows of his classes at the East Side Hebrew Institute.
He began performing at comedy clubs while majoring in music at the State University of New York at Binghamton, and went on to star in TV shows such as “My Two Dads” before “Mad About You” made him a household name during the sitcom’s seven seasons, from 1992 to 1999.
Like Seinfeld’s TV character, the fictional Paul Buchman on “Mad About You” seemed Jewish but was never explicitly named as a member of the Tribe. That irked some Jewish pundits – along with the assumption that Reiser and Hunt portrayed an interfaith couple. “My goal with ‘Mad About You’ was to have the Jewishness be presumed, but never stated,” Reiser acknowledged. “But I still bristle to this day when people make a big deal of ‘He’s Jewish; she’s Gentile.’ We never mentioned that her character is not Jewish…. Helen, in fact, is part Jewish, and to me her character was always Jewish. Any girl who is smart and funny and can quote a Mel Brooks record is as Jewish as I need them to be.”
As for Reiser’s own religious life, he said, “We’re pretty Jewish; we have our seders, and we have our big Chanukah parties with the kids.” His oldest son, Ezra Samuel, who was born six weeks premature and has used a wheelchair since birth, had his bar mitzvah two years ago in a ceremony so moving that guests told Reiser they were inspired to themselves pursue becoming b’nai mitzvah.
In “Familyhood,” Reiser said, “There is a specific chapter about my eldest son, which was a landmark for me to do. I hadn’t really written about him before, but I was glad once I got to the other side of it.”
Reiser even hired an actor who uses a wheelchair to play one of his sons on his new show. “But we’re not going to make a big deal of it and we’re not going to see either kid too much,” he said.
The boy’s disability does come up, in a more serious manner, in the episode in which Reiser and his wife re-write their wills. “We do make a joke about [that], which was an important joke for me to be able to make, and then we move past it,” Reiser said.
“Not that we’re being flip, but for these characters, this is simply a part of life. Kids have issues, and you deal with those issues every day.”
March 30, 2011 | 6:43 pm
Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
Judge Judy said she needs “a day to chill” in the hospital after being whisked to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center—in an ambulence—following symptoms of stomach distress today, TMZ reported. “I’m really fine,” the 68-year-old Judith Sheindlin, a.k.a. TV’s sometimes irascible Judge Judy, told TMZ’s Harvey Levin. “I wanted to go back to work this afternoon. I’m exhausted. I’m tired. A lot of things just zoned together, including the bad news of the world. At my age, I know my body. My body is fine.”
Sheindlin, host of the syndicated courtroom reality show “Judge Judy,” has hardly been benched by her experience: she should return home on Thursday.
Described by Forbes as one of the 20 richest women in entertainment (actually she was number 13 in 2007), the tough-talking judge got her start in 1976 when then-Mayor Ed Koch appointed her to New York’s criminal court and in 1980, as Manhattan’s supervising family court judge.
Judge Judy has Jewish credentials, too. Born Judith Susan Blum to German Jews in Brooklyn, she was raised in a traditional household but has described herself as more of a cultural Jew, she told the Jewish World Review some years ago: “Indeed, under Judge Judy’s robe still beats the heart of a Jewish mother,” the story said. “When she was [once] profiled on Entertainment Tonight, she managed to slip in several times that her ‘handsome son’ was unmarried and looking.”
While the Jewish judge has no plans to sit on her local Beit Din, it’s reported that her current show should continue at least until 2013, its 17th season.
Stay well, Judge Judy!
March 29, 2011 | 5:39 pm
Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
While watching Todd Haynes’ stunning adaptation of “Mildred Pierce” in a nourish mini-series for HBO, I recalled the first time I viewed a production by this brilliant (and yes, Jewish) writer-director: Edward Albee’s, “The Zoo Story,” which Haynes directed and starred in at a professional theater in Hollywood in the 1970s.
Haynes was all of 13, and a classmate at Gaspar de Portola Junior High School (now middle school) in Tarzana. In the seventh grade, we’d eat lunch every day among the same circle of friends who met under a tree near the cafeteria, where Todd would often show us the intricate pen drawings he had made to illustrate various creative ideas. Even then he was talking about issues of identity – and his own emerging gay identity— that would later surface in his nuanced cinematic explorations of race, gender, and sexuality.
“Far From Heaven” (2003) is Haynes’ homage to the 1950s melodramas of Douglas Sirk, who fled Hitler to Hollywood and transformed “women’s pictures” into slyly subversive critiques of American social taboos. “I’m Not There” (2007) divided Bob Dylan’s life into six personae, each represented by a different actor; while “Mildred Pierce” tackles social class and gender anxiety in a faithful adaptation of James M. Cain’s gritty 1941 novel (compared to the weepier 1945 movie starring Joan Crawford).
What I didn’t know about Todd back in junior high was that he counted Judaism as an important aspect of his personal identity; I had always assumed he was non-Jewish, and was surprised to learn—decades later—that he is, in fact, a member of the tribe. When I interviewed him about “Far From Heaven” in 2003, he explained that his mother is Jewish, his father is not, and while he grew up in a non-religious household, he is “damned proud” to be an MOT. Laughing, he added that he wished his surname didn’t sound so WASPy.
When asked about his relationship with “Far From Heaven’s” composer, Elmer Bernstein (who won his final Oscar for “Heaven’s” score), Haynes said: “Elmer and I became friends very fast, which I think has a lot to do with being Jewish, left-leaning and interested in the arts.”
Bernstein (1922-2004) reminded Haynes of his charismatic grandfather, Arnold Semler, who died in 2001, and to whom “Far From Heaven” is dedicated. Semler was a son of Romanian and Polish immigrants who started out in the Warner Bros. mail room in the 1930s and worked his way up to head of set construction and union organizer. A Communist Party member, he quit his job during the McCarthy-era blacklists and founded a communications and electronics business.
Over his brown bag lunch back at Portola, Haynes spoke often and with great admiration about his grandfather, but it was not until our 2003 interview that I realized the scope of Semler’s influence. “My grandfather identified with the history of Jewish struggle,” Haynes said. “All my films are about resilient outsiders, whether in terms of race or sexual orientation, and I think I inherited that from [him].”
“Mildred Pierce” is Haynes latest saga of a resilient outsider: as played by Kate Winslet, the character pulls herself up by the proverbial bootstraps from working class to upper class, has an affair with an aristocratic Lothario (Guy Pearce) but remains reviled by her spoiled, pretentious daughter, Veda (Evan Rachel Wood), to tragic effect.
Mare Winningham, by the way, is superb as Mildred’s blunt waitress co-worker, Ida, who winds up running Pierce’s business empire.
Parts 1, 2 and 3 of the “Mildred Pierce” mini-series will continue airing this week; parts 4 and 5 will air on April 3 and April 10.
March 23, 2011 | 5:25 pm
Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
Palestinian author Rula Jebreal bears an uncanny resemblance to Freida Pinto, the Indian actress who portrays the writer’s alter ego in Julian Schnabel’s new film, “Miral.” So it was not surprising that the filmmaker initially assumed Jebreal was Indian when they met in 2007 at the opening of an exhibition of Schnabel’s paintings in Rome.
“I said, ‘No, I am actually from Israel,’” Jebreal, 38, said in a telephone interview from Manhattan, where she now lives with Schnabel. “I don’t know if I would say he had a knee-jerk reaction, but his expression changed from smiling to almost a tension, like he had never seen a Palestinian before. So I asked, “Are you scared or something?’” And he replied, ‘Should I be scared?’—that is how we started talking.”
It was only by chance that Jebreal, a prominent television journalist living in Rome, had attended the opening at all. Her friend, Walter Veltroni, Rome’s mayor, mentioned to her over lunch that she should check out the exhibition – and that Schnabel was the only adult besides Hugh Hefner known for wearing pajamas in public.
“When I saw his paintings that night, they spoke to me,” she recalled. Some captured images and impressions of Egypt, which gave her the sense that Schnabel regarded her culture with dignity and compassion. “I felt there is a place in his work that speaks to everyone, and relates to the major issues I care about,” she added.
Soon after the opening, she sent the artist-filmmaker a copy of her autobiographical novel, “Miral,” which recounts her painful childhood and her coming of age during the first Intifada in 1987. Also attached was a rough English translation of a screenplay adaptation of the book, which was originally published in Italian in 2004.
“Three weeks later, Julian called and said he would like to work on this project together,” Jebreal said.
Some time between that telephone call and the completion of the film, the Jewish artist and the Palestinian author fell in love and began living together in Schnabel’s duplex within Palazzo Chupi, a pink complex he built in Greenwich Village.
When did Jebreal learn that Schnabel was Jewish?
“I don’t pay attention to these things,” she said. “I am Muslim, my daughter is Catholic, and I never classify people based on color, gender or religion. Honestly I did not care. I met the human being, I met his work; nothing else mattered.”
Jebreal’s own story is heartbreaking. Everything in “Miral,” the novel and the film, is true, she said, not only about herself, but also about her family. Her mother, Nadia, was repeatedly raped by her stepfather as a child, ran away from home as a teenager, supported herself as a belly dancer and served time in jail for slapping an Israeli woman who had affronted her.
Eventually, she married Othman Jebreal, a gentle, almost saintly man who worked as a gardener and later, as a minor imam at the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. He vowed to save her, but Nadia was unable to overcome her brutal childhood and descended into alcoholism and depression, eventually committing suicide by drowning herself in the Mediterranean, leaving behind her daughters, Rula, 5, and Rania, 4.
Because Othman Jebreal was already suffering from cancer, he took his girls to live at Hind Husseini’s Children’s Home in the Old City of Jerusalem, hoping that there they could receive an education and find safe haven when he was gone.
“Hind was very strong, dedicated and affectionate to her ‘daughters,’ who numbered about 3,000,” Jebreal said. “She believed education could give us the opportunity to survive, because she saw what was happening in many villages where girls had no option except to marry at 13 or 14, to become prostitutes or to be manipulated and used by religious fanatics, which she did not want for her girls.”
Even so, the early years were difficult for Jebreal, who felt “alone, abandoned, fearful” and who devoured books about orphans such as “Oliver Twist,” “David Copperfield,” and especially “Jane Eyre.” She learned to tell stories, at first, to heal her sister, who repeatedly attempted to scale the orphanage’s walls to run home; and then to the other orphans who crowded together in bed at night, seeking the physical affection they missed from their parents. Those experiences, in part, led Jebreal to become a writer.
Another turning point came when Jebreal was sent by Husseini to teach in a makeshift school in a refugee camp on the West Bank when she was 16. “I was shocked by the kind of oppression that seemed unbearable,” she recalled of the camp. There, Jebreal met and fell in love with an older man, an activist with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine; against the wishes of Hind and of her father, who by then was terminally ill, she also began participating in civil disobedience and numerous demonstrations during the first Intifada.
Late one night, Jebreal was arrested and whipped in an Israeli prison, but was released after 24 hours because she is an Israeli citizen. The only matter that is fictionalized in the film, she said, involves her boyfriend at the time; he did not engage in car bombings in the settlements or in any other violent activities, as far as she knows. In fact, when the Oslo Accords went forward in the early 1990s, he publicly endorsed the peace process, to the chagrin of fellow PFLP leaders.
Eventually Jebreal received a scholarship to the University of Bologna and relocated to Italy, where she had an affair with an art student and gave birth to a daughter Miral, named for a wildflower that blooms in extreme conditions. Her break in broadcasting came when the second Intifada erupted in 2000; since then, Jebreal has become one of Italy’s best-known journalists. She also became an author, writing “Miral,” she said, as a catharsis of sorts, “but in the third person because I needed to process it emotionally.” Schnabel, she said, has brought a more relaxed quality to her life, since she finds that “art in general focuses on the positive things.”
Yet she has been dismayed by Jewish groups who protested the screening of “Miral” at the United Nations recently. “The one right that I should have is to be able to tell my story,” she said. “[But] I’m not sure people are ready for a Palestinian woman to tell her story. You can judge the film as good or bad; you can dislike it, but to come out against the showing of the film is something I find shocking.”
The film opens on March 25.
March 17, 2011 | 5:10 pm
Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
“That’s sooo funny, Roger,” Brooke Shields said to playwright Roger Kumble during a read-through of “Girls Talk,” his new satire about Hollywood power moms at the Lee Strasberg Theatre opening March 18. Shields and her co-stars were laughing over the scene in which the character of Scarlett (Nicole Paggi of “Hope & Faith”), a Southern blond converting to Judaism, has flounced into a meeting of fellow moms from the fictional Temple Jerusalem pre-school in Brentwood. “This challah is to die for ... Challah VaChallah,” Scarlett gushes, a la Flava Flav.
In a later scene, Jane (Andrea Bendewald of “Suddenly Susan”) a failed actress turned ferocious Supermom, badmouths Scarlett to the others. “What kind of idiot mails St. Valentine’s Day cards to 4-year-olds at a Jewish school?” she says. “The school was pissed.”
Unlike Kumble’s previous “Hollywood” plays—sardonic comedies spotlighting male characters – “Girls Talk” features an all-female cast exploring issues important to the mommy set. Besides Scarlett and Jane, the characters include Lori Rosen (Shields) an ex-television writer who has given up her career to parent three children, and who, in the course of the play, must choose between co-chairing the school’s annual fundraiser or going back to work (meaning that her daughter may never “do” school in this town again). There’s also Claire (Constance Zimmer of “Entourage”), Lori’s former writing partner, who is trying to lure Lori back to the writers room—while fending off pitiful looks because she is fortyish and single. “If I wanted a kid that bad,” she pointedly tells the moms, I could get sperm from Marc Cherry, Darren Star and Ryan Murphy.”
“That would be a very rich gay baby,” Lori replies.
Eileen Galindo portrays Lori’s $300-versus-$700 a week nanny.
During a rehearsal break, the actresses praised Kumble: “You’ve written a play for five women, how awesome is that,” Bendewald said.
He admitted writing the all-female piece wasn’t easy. “I was nervous, but I just didn’t over think it,” he said. “I just kind of said, ‘This could go badly,’ and I showed an early draft to female friends just to see if they were going to say, ‘How dare you.’ But they said, ‘This is a solid piece of writing.’ I’m sure people could come away saying ‘God, these women are almost too masculine,’ but I’m a male writer, you know. My challenge to them is, ‘go write your play.’”
Story continues after the slideshow.
Here are further excerpts from my conversation with Kumble and the performers about satirizing their own industry, balancing work and parenthood, those dreaded pre-school applications, and more.
Naomi Pfefferman Magid: What makes “Girl’s Talk” different from, say, “The Vagina Monologues?”
Zimmer: In L.A. it’s very hard to do theater and have people come and see it, especially things that people might have seen other actors do over and over again. So there’s something very appealing about an original play by somebody whose work you know and like. And when Roger does plays, they’re not traditional plays, they’re like events. It’s something you [attend] to embrace the industry—the good, the bad and the ugly—more so the ugly that doesn’t really get shown very often.
NPM: [to Zimmer] You play the studio executive Dana Gordon on HBO’s “Entourage,” which does satirize Hollywood.
Zimmer: Yeah, but “Entourage” is even a little sugar-coated.
Shields: It’s a little ‘nice.’ Roger’s plays are edgy, but not self-aware like “OK, now we’re being edgy.” There are so few roles written for women that are complex and funny, heartbreaking and smart. We’re very often relegated to props or “The Girlfriend.” This play is not just female-centered but a very positive exploration of what it means to be a mother, trying to have a career and being told by society that we can have it all but always feeling that we’re falling short. I personally go through [these kinds of issues] on a daily basis; I left my kids this morning and they were sobbing, I don’t want to be without them but this [the play] is very important to me. When I was home, I was calling Roger every day, saying “How come you’re not writing something for me to do?” That’s the dichotomy and the push and pull you feel if you are choosing to be a mother, and what that brings.
Bendewald: People in this town love to see themselves reflected back on the stage, even if it’s not so pretty. When I did “d girl” [part of Kumble’s hilariously mordant “Hollywood” trilogy], the audiences heard how outrageous it was, and the people it resembled were the ones who were dying to see it.
NPM: Did they not “get” that the characters were supposed to be them?
Bendewald: No, I think they did get it and they loved it. I had many conversations afterwards where people would be like, “I had a boss like that.” So when I read “Girls Talk,” I had the same kind of reaction of, “Oh, that’s me, or that’s my friend, that’s my situation, I know that.”
NPM: There’s also the whole satire of the pre-school application process, and the parental hysteria that brings.
Shields: Sometimes you go, “Oh, it’s so political,” and yet [for your children] you need to find a way to play the game and play the game honestly, to the best of your ability without selling your soul, and yet knowing, “Well, I’ve got to sell something.” Naively, when I was applying to pre-schools here – we’ve since moved back to New York – there was one essay where they asked, “What can you offer the school?” So I of course launched into this in-depth essay about: a child who’s willing to learn and she’s a fresh mind and she’s energetic and stubborn and the kind of mind we’d want to shape and this is their future. But what they were looking for was a monetary amount. I talked to a girlfriend later—we didn’t get in – and she was like, “What did you answer on that question.” I [told her] and she was like, you were supposed to put a dollar value down, to say, “For the annual [fund raiser] we can give this.” That was a real awakening for me.
NPM: Even in “Entourage,” there’s that scene where the superagent, Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven), is scheming to get his son into the right private school.
Kumble: Coincidentally, Doug Ellin, the creator of “Entourage,” has a daughter in my daughter’s class at her Jewish pre-school. Doug and David Schwimmer [who starred in Kumble’s play, “Turnaround”] and I all came up together. Doug’s seen “d girl” and of course I’ve seen “Entourage.” Actually our kids play together – not that I’m saying this in a name-dropping way. It’s not like I tell my daughter, “Go play, and tell them to give Daddy a job!”
Zimmer: My daughter is 3 and I’m just getting into the realization that it is such a nightmare to just try and get your child into a school. I actually got so angry and upset that I just stopped looking for a year because I was pissed off. I was going into these meetings with these people and I just thought, “Why are you interviewing me; this isn’t about me, I’m not the one coming to school here. I have an amazing child; you want my child or you don’t. So I have to come down off that ledge.
NPM: Do any of you worry that your children will never “do” school in this town again?
Bendewald: No, I think that will just be Roger (teasing). I don’t think any of us will ever have that problem. Actually the good news is his kids already are in school so he’s safe.
Paggi: I’m not a mother in real life. This [play] definitely makes me a little scared to have children.
Bendewald: The discussion about our kids is scaring you?
Paggi: The play scares me because it’s very realistic; based on what I hear my girlfriends who have children say, it all seems very true. But it’s also just so funny.
NPM: “Girls Talk” revolves around moms at a Jewish school, and there are ways in which the character of Jane, in particular, uses Judaism to undermine Scarlett, who is converting while raising her own son Jewish. Since none of you happen to be Jewish in real life, what did you make of the Jewish content and of characters trying to hurt each other in ways that had to do with their cultural identity, and the Who is a Jew issue?
Bendewald: [About Jane’s cruel behavior toward Scarlett]: I recognize her actions as a trait that exists in all of us, which is, wanting to fit in, feeling “less than,” and trying to feel better by putting yourself above someone else.
NPM: Do you think Jane is a bigot?
Bendewald: I think the part of it that is true for her is that she feels threatened, so she uses whatever she thinks will work to put this woman, Scarlett, down. I have different ammunition to use against Claire, which has nothing to do with her religion or nationality. I just use whatever someone’s weakness is.
Shields: I also think we’re not really in a culture anymore where it’s easy to find your ‘tribe’ or clan. I remember growing up feeling so much envy for my friends who were Jewish and had these families that met all the time and had rituals. My ritual growing up Irish-Catholic in Manhattan, was basically guilt on Sundays – or rather guilt all the time, and usually practicing the guilt on Sundays. And I would go to friends houses and feel, ‘Oh, this is what it is to have a history and have a family,’ because none of our relatives were around at the time.
I can see the vehemence with which one might want to fight for and keep something that is [traditional]. Whether it’s a matter of conversion or even if the logic doesn’t make sense, the innate history and the desire to hold onto something—you can see what a fire it is.
“Girls Talk” will open on Friday, March 18 and will run through Sunday, April 24 at the Lee Strasberg – Marilyn Monroe Theatre, 7936 Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. For tickets, call (800) 595-4849 or visit www.tix.com.
March 17, 2011 | 3:17 pm
Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
Michael C. Hall, the Emmy-winning star of Showtime’s “Dexter,” plays his first cinematic Jewish character in “Peep World,” Barry Blaustein’s dark comedy about four siblings who come to terms with their monstrous father (Ron Rifkin) on the eve of his 70th birthday.
Hall (“Six Feet Under”) portrays the dutiful son, Jack Meyerwitz, who is hiding an excruciatingly embarrassing secret; Sarah Silverman (“The Sarah Silverman Program”) is his needy, not-so-nice sister, Cheri; Rainn Wilson (“The Office”) is the family sad-sack; and Ben Schwartz (“Everybody’s Fine,” “Parks and Recreation”) is the favored son, Nathan, whose thinly-disguised autobiographical novel mortifies the family.
“To have yourself characterized in a negative way in something you didn’t agree to —that must be a real betrayal,” Hall said of the idea of becoming fodder for someone else’s tell-all.
While serial killer Dexter would have known exactly how to handle “Peep World’s” smug novelist, the fictional Jack isn’t the blood-splattering type. “It was interesting playing a part where an option to kill them all wasn’t there, so I had to do something different,” Hall quipped.
Here are excerpts from my conversation with Hall, Schwartz and Silverman, who last spoke to the Journal about her own autobiographical best-seller, “The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee.” “I don’t think there is anyone who can say they don’t come from a dysfunctional family,” Silverman said of “Peep World.” “I think that’s what makes a family normal.” A pause. “But this family is f——d up.”
“Peep World” opens March 25 in Los Angeles.