Friends and Frenemies

Our other Literary Intern, Emily Edmond (who joins us after graduating from Carleton College last year) has written up a blog entry about her experience working on a reading of the play Best Friends, by Israeli playwright Anat Gov.

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Tea@Two is a program at Theater J where actors and a director rehearse a script in the morning (typically 10am-1pm) and then present a reading of the play before an audience at 2 pm. After the reading the audience has a chance to respond to the play, with Ari Roth, or another Theater J staff member, moderating. Typically these plays are either new or new to America. Tea@Two’s are a great way for community members to participate in the artistic process at Theater J, and for Theater J to learn more about the community we serve.

For the past four weeks, Theater J has been presenting its festival: “Voices From A Changing Middle East.” The festival, as the name implies, consists of readings of plays from the Middle East. There are a variety of plays being read: established plays, new plays, plays about men, plays about women, plays by men and plays by women–even a play adapted by a man from a short story written by a woman. There is a one-actor show and a twelve-actor show.

Playwright Anat Gov.

The latest show we read at Tea@Two was Best Friends, by Anat Gov. Enormously popular in its native land, Best Friends is the longest running comedy in Israel (the production was directed by one of Israel’s other prolific female playwrights–Edna Mazya). It tracks the friendship of three women–Tirzah, Lelly and Sophie–from their initial meeting in a bathroom in the late 1960s to an unwelcome reunion twenty years later. Best Friends begins with the young Lelly walking in on young Tirzah and Sophie complaining about the fact that Lelly hasn’t invited them to the party she’s throwing. Twenty years later, adult Lelly tricks Sophie and Tirzah into coming over to discuss, “a matter of life and death.”

Marianne Faithfull

My first questions upon reading Best Friends by Anat Gov were: 1) What traits distinguished each of the three women? and 2) as Israelis, did they really listen to the Doors, Marianne Faithfull and the Everly Brothers? The first question was quickly dispelled in rehearsal (Tirzah’s the suck up, Lelly’s the peacemaker and Sophie’s the bad girl.) The latter question speaks to the Western influences at work in Israeli culture, forces that–we learned in rehearsal–are strong and ever-present.

Listening to the comments made at Friday’s Tea@Two, the general consensus seemed to be, “it could have taken place in America, and no one would have known” (except for the mention of young people doing army service.) A word used frequently was “universal.” One audience member said that the interaction between characters in Best Friends was spot on to how her own daughters interacted. Another member reminisced about having similar conversations with her own girlfriends at camp.

The women of Sex and the City.

These comments and others like them raise an interesting question: when does universal become ubiquitous? Is the entertainment industry correct in its insistence that women seem to talk only about men (Sex in the City), or about each other (Mean Girls)? As Lelly says, “A whole world where anything goes began to develop ‘behind her back’  to the point where every phone call between two of us would be about the third one. We put her on the dissecting table and cut her to pieces.” Lelly isn’t condoning this kind of behavior, but she also isn’t refuting it. Not that she should: backstabbing happens in Best Friends and it happens in real life, but does it always happen? And does it only happen to women?

What do you think? Are men and women’s friendships basically the same, or are they categorically different? What about friendships between the genders: do women become less catty when they talk to men? Do men become more emotional when they talk to women? Do you see more stories about men’s friendships or women’s friendships? Which do you find more compelling?