The truth about dating

The J-Town Playhouse’s ‘It’s Not You, Well, Maybe It Is!’ sparks conversation about all ages navigating the single life.

By RACHEL MARDER
May 4, 2013 22:33
‘Its Not You, Well, Maybe It Is!’ theater production in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem play370. (photo credit: Tovy Trachtman )

 
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Raphael Poch has some innovative advice for singles looking to get married: Write a play about the dating scene; the pitfalls, highlights and all of the crazy experiences in between, and you just might find “the one” in the process.

The co-author and one of the stars of It’s Not You, Well, Maybe It Is! showing this month at the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel JTown Playhouse, met his fiancé just a few months before he and co-author Sura Shachnovitz seriously began working on the play, though it had long been brewing.

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“It’s a segula [charm],” he says jokingly. “I suggest everyone do it.”

The play follows the dating lives of Danny (David Storfer), a young Modern Orthodox man in Jerusalem’s Katamon neighborhood, struggling to find success in love, closely based on Poch; his ex-girlfriend Rachel (Netanya Mischel) trying to figure out what she wants out of a relationship; and recently widowed mother Rivka (Andrea Katz), based on Shachnovitz, who is experiencing a complicated dating life in her 50s.

Interspersed throughout are real stories of outlandish dates, dating advice and anxieties, conversations between friends about boundaries in a physical relationship, love and what your shoes say about you, and telephone messages from strangers trying to set the characters up. Shachnovitz and Poch gathered all of their material from friends and acquaintances and via Facebook crowd sourcing, though a solid chunk of the stories are straight from Poch’s life.

“I had no end of people trying to set me up,” says the 32-year-old, who has dated on and off since he was 19 and says the show was therapeutic for him.

Israel, Poch says, may be worse than anywhere else for less-than-personal set-ups. Old women on the bus, strangers at the post office, the bank and everyone at his parents’ Neveh Daniel settlement have tried to match him up with a daughter or a “Cousin Shira,” as Danny puts it.

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Some of the dating stories in the play were just too unbelievable, though, Poch says, adding that he had to “unrealify” them. In one, cousins realize they’ve been set up with one another; in real life, it was brother and sister. In another, Poch shares his experience going on a date with a girl who is so traumatized by terrorism that she can only enjoy horror movies now.

Twice, Poch says, a girl wanted him to meet with her matchmaker before going on a date with him, a hilarious conversation replayed in the show.

“Yes, you have to be open to new opportunities that are around you,” he says, “but you don’t have to put yourself out there, face all this rejection and dejection and make yourself jaded in order to find what it is you’re working for.”

The play first showed at the Jewish-themed Stage One Festival at Beit Avi Chai in March, and brings to light the honest experiences and raw emotions we have all gone through in extending ourselves emotionally, breaking someone else’s heart or getting our own heart broken.

The show’s director Eryn London appreciates the inter-generational play among Danny, Rivka, her love interest Dave (Avraham Schlissel), Lilah (Penina Satlow) – Rivkah’s teenage daughter, Susan (Mina Yocheved-Perskin) – a 20-something frustrated that guys don’t see beyond her weight, and Rachel. The women of all ages bond and share their experiences with one another.

“Girls’ night doesn’t mean you’re with all your friends in a bar, but you’re with people who you respect and trust and that’s who you’re going to get your advice from and comfort from,” says London, 27, who has a masters in applied drama and teaches theater at Emuna V’Omanoot, a seminary in Jerusalem that incorporates art.

For the audience, seeing people of different ages spending time together is realistic, she says.

“The majority of us don’t really live in the bubble of just our age group,” she says, whether it be at work or in friendships. London, who is Modern Orthodox, in particular understands this, as she works in a nursing home as well, when she isn’t studying Talmud and Halacha (Jewish law) at Midreshet Lindenbaum four days a week.

While the play is a different one for London, who is used to directing Absurdist theater – two years ago she directed The Skin of Our Teeth by Thorton Wilder at the now defunct Merkaz Hamagshimim – she enjoyed the challenge.

Still, she says, she relates to the show on a personal level.

“It’s an interesting show, being someone who lived in it,” she says. “There are scenes that make me want to cringe because they’re too real, cringe because how could that happen in real life?” Storfer, a believable guy who’s trying to change his approach when it comes to women – “Sometimes I just feel like I’m in this communal meat market,” he says – has great comedic timing and nails his facial expressions on awkward dates. Mischel and Katz are incredibly relatable in portraying their indecisive, thoughtful characters with great expression and delivery.

Both men’s and women’s voices are heard, as Poch and Shachnovitz edited each other. They considered writing a gay or lesbian relationship into the show, but Poch says they were concerned they did not have the time and space to address it well.

However, the play does give expression to other voices not always heard in the Modern Orthodox world; teenagers watching their mother dive into the dating pool, overweight young women feeling unwanted, and divorcees.

Perskin gives a fierce and inspiring delivery as the curvy girl frustrated over her dating prospects.

“Everybody goes through this. Everyone has their own ideas and opinions, their own inner voice. It’s just about letting it out,” says Poch, who hopes the play will inspire conversation among singles and matchmakers about appropriate set-up etiquette.

“My dream is to have 150 shadchanim [matchmakers] in here watching the show,” he quips. “My message is really get to know the person. If you want to set someone up, don’t just do it. We’re not pieces of meat hanging out. We’re not nebuch cases that need your charity. You’re trying to involve yourself very deeply in someone else’s personal life. That’s a big thing. Don’t take that lightly.”

Schachnovitz has been a sort of self-appointed dating coach for Poch, just as Rivka is for Danny, though he says in real life her advice did not extend beyond shoe choice.

In his own story, Poch says he refused to sign up on dating web sites, and that he does not believe in matchmaking or getting set up by strangers. Though it was a dating website that brought him and his future wife together. A friend of his who signed up for a dating website was having trouble narrowing it down. Poch helped him settle on a young woman who looked interesting, with a good personality and who was cute, he says. But their date didn’t go so well.

His friend came home and suggested Poch take her out instead.

“You talk alike,” he told Poch, who called her soon after. “I had a longer phone conversation with her than he had on their date,” he says. After going on five dates in five days, and then dating for just under three months, they got engaged.

Poch, who works as the artistic director of the JTown Playhouse, says It’s Not You is the first play he’s successfully completed, but it’s given him motivation to get his second one, about soldiers in the IDF coming back for reserve duty five years later, completed this year. He intends to crowd source for stories for this one as well.

“The army, like dating on a very similar level, is different for every single person. It affects you in a close personal way.”

He hopes members of singles groups like Beineinu of Young Israel and the Facebook group of singles, Shimgles, come to the show and dialogue with the cast.

“We’re trying to encourage people getting their voices out there and really talking about these issues,” he says.

London also would like to see conversations come out of the show, and possibly show the audience what there is to celebrate about dating.

“As potentially frustrating as dating might be it’s not always horrible, or it’s nice to know that other people commiserate with you,” she says.

But for Poch, after years being single, now he has married life to contend with.

“I’m curious what it will be like being married,” he says. “It’s something which on the one hand people look forward to, on the other hand feel anxiety about.” Possibly material for a new play?

Performances: May 5, 8 and 12 at the AACI at 37 Pierre Koenig St., 4th floor, Talpiyot, Jerusalem. All shows are at 8 p.m. Purchase tickets online at www.aaci.org.il or over the phone at (02) 566-1181. AACI member and high school and college students: NIS 50. Regular price: NIS 70.

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