Marans, Jon, “A Strange and Separate People”, Chelsea Station Editions, 2012.
“Betrayal and New Beginnings”
I was very lucky to have been able to see Jon Marans’s “The Temperamentals” when I first moved to Boston last spring after having read the script. Quite naturally I was anxious to read his new play “A Strange and Separate People” especially because it contains two of the topics I am especially interested in—religion and homosexuality.
A Manhattan couple suddenly finds itself teetering on destruction when a gay doctor takes up his religious beliefs with a strong passion and begins to question what love really means. The play is an intimate drama with just three characters and looks at the issues that exist between Orthodox Judaism and gay men, a subject I am very familiar with. However the main question is not unique to Judaism alone but to every gay person who is spiritual and wants to live a life that encompasses both sexuality and religious belief. This is about an Orthodox gay Jew but it could be about any person who embraces his religion and his sexuality and tries to find a place where the two can co-exist.
The world of the Orthodox Jew is strange to those who have not lived it (which I have done and still do, to a degree although I have been a reform Jew for about seven years now). It is a world centered on the 613 commandments that are presented to us in our holy texts. It is also a world of tradition, obedience and liturgy. More than that, however, it is a world of respect and herein is the problem for many—is it truly possible to be in both worlds at the same time?
The three characters here—Stuart Weinstein (in his early 30s, handsome, Jewish although not so observant when we first meet him, a doctor with a sharp mind and wit), Phyllis Berman (mid 30’s, a tad prudish, private but has the ability to rage) and Jay Berman (Phyllis’s husband, tough and self-centered) all discover that their world is about to be challenged by love. Each of the characters reaches a point at which he must introspect and then decide upon choices to be made. Additionally each character is what we have called in literature, the “other” meaning that they are not totally absorbed into one group or another. Because Phyllis has an autistic son, she does not fit into the typical Jewish world, Stuart, because he is gay also does not fit that world or the New York gay community because he is Jewish and Jay also has a disconnect from both worlds because he has been living a life of deceit.
The play is very, very timely because with the discussion of gay marriage that has taken this country by storm, religions have begun to issue statements that contain their points of views and while some are beginning to accept homosexuals, Orthodox Judaism is still in the midst of a very heavy debate about the issue. This is a story of struggle that involves love and faith and sexuality and we watch as three individuals embark upon personal journeys with the hopes of finding their places in this world.
What we read here is very personal for me as I have experienced so much of it in my own life and I suppose that I am still dealing with some of it. I have been able to find my own place in Judaism (I think) yet the question will always remain as to whether Judaism has found a place for me. Here in Massachusetts I am able to live a full Jewish life as an openly gay man but was certainly not able to do the same when I lived in Arkansas. Those who are dealing with the issues know exactly what I mean and I really think that it is necessary for a person to prioritize which facets of himself are the most important to him.
I do not want to give away anything in the plot of the drama because I want everyone to have the opportunity to deal with the issues here as they come to them. I am quite sure, however, that reading the text is not nearly as powerful as actually seeing it performed but there is a advantage to reading the lines. It gives the reader time to think about so much. Watching the play is a slap across the face; reading it is a slap across the mind.