Liat Ron has been many things in her life. She’s been an actress, a dancer and a teacher. However, she’s also something of a private investigator. No, she won’t be able to help you locate your long-lost birth parents. She probably won’t be able to confirm if your husband is cheating on you with his secretary, either. Make no mistake, however. For much of her life, Ron has been trying to solve one of man’s greatest mysteries; investigating the most private of matters: â€œwho am I?â€ Like many people, Ron has spent years trying to figure out her own identity. She’s been divided between countries and cultures, and has wavered between careers in the arts. In her world, Ron has maintained a public persona exemplifying strength and, as she puts it, â€œsuperwomanhood,â€ but on the inside, she was torn apart by a toxic romantic endeavor and battled an eating disorder all on her own.
So, when Ron recently penned and decided to star in a one-woman show, those close to her were surprised to learn that the show was based on her life. The aptly-titled â€œGutsâ€ is, in many ways, about just that: it’s about Ron spilling her guts and releasing the results of a very private investigation in the most public of ways.
â€œI struggled for a long time to find my identity and to learn how to feel comfortable in my own skin,â€ said the actress and writer, the focus in her dark, piercing eyes drowning out the bustle and noise of a midtown Manhattan diner. â€œNow, I’m willing to feel the discomfort that comes with people knowing things about my life because I believe this show can help people find themselves the way I found myself.â€
Born in the Israeli city of Holon to an Iraqi-Israeli mother and Russian Jewish father, Ron (a twenty-something who refuses to give her age because of her acting career) has been performing ever since she was a child. Blessed with a strong memory, Ron was able to memorize monologues even as a small child, making her an ideal candidate for school plays. Those parts soon led to memberships in youth choir groups, and performances all over the city on Israeli holidays or for special events.
â€œI was never the most popular person in school, but I was known as the entertainer,â€ Ron said. â€œWhenever there was any kind of school play or talent show, any kind of performance, everyone knew to expect me to be involved.â€
Observe Ron practicing her craft for yourself and her role as class performer would hardly be surprising. In â€œGuts,â€ Ron’s range as an actress is evident, particularly without the benefit of other performers to play off of and with only the sparsest elements of props or a set. As Hellthy, the character clearly inspired in many ways by her own life, Ron is as funny as she is heartbreaking; she is as alluring as she is disturbing. It was the Big Apple that provided the setting for her to improve her acting abilities.
Ron had very close relatives in New York, and when she was 15, she decided to go live with them full-time, while making frequent visits to her homeland. She’d always believed she was destined to go back to Israel (a responsibility that many Israelis hold dear), but she was beginning to find life in America suitable to her interests.
Ron’s plate in New York was full. Having already acted in some minor film and theater roles in Israel, Ron continued to work on her acting in New York. Eventually, she became a student at Circle in the Square Theater School. The budding actress also maintained an interest in belly-dancing, something that seems natural with her dark, flowing hair and becoming olive-hued complexion. She also became active in some Jewish organizations, combining her passion for art with a love of language (Ron also works as a professional translator) to try to teach Hebrew to children in New York.
â€œI’m interested in so many things and I believe so many of them are important,â€ explained Ron. â€œI was developing all of these interests here simultaneously, and I was developing as a person in New York.â€
Amid all the excitement, however, there was a lot of pressure in Ron’s life. Embroiled in a difficult and unhealthy relationship, her personal life was a mess. Ron knew she needed to get away from this man (who is referred to in â€œGutsâ€ as Mr. Ex) because he simply wasn’t right for her or the direction she hoped her life would take, but he was unwilling to let her go. The stress of the situation exacerbated an already-underlying issue in her life: an eating disorder that had developed in Ron’s effort to stay a size zero.
All of the excitement of her new life in New York suddenly became too much for Ron to handle. Things no longer felt right for the multi-talented young woman. She needed to regroup, and she needed to be taken care of, so she made the logical choice of returning home to Israel. Going home did indeed help her address certain issues in her life, but not exactly in the manner that she may have expected.
Close with her family, Ron enjoyed the comforts of home, enveloped and warmed by her parents’ care. There were issues, however. â€œDid you eat?â€ became a common question faced by Ron, and such moments would inspire some of the more tragic, yet lighthearted moments of her play. A recording of Ron portraying Hellthy’s mother in a thick Israeli accent badgers the character regarding the issue of food, annoying and frustrating Hellthy, and bringing her ever closer to the brink of madness.
â€œIt was like being a teenager again,â€ said Ron. â€œOn one hand, I loved that my parents were there like a security blanket, but on the other hand, I was very standoffish to them. I didn’t want to be bothered.â€
Ron also began to realize that her time in America had changed her, and although she retained some of her closest friendships, she’d grown too far apart from some of her childhood friends to resume relationships with them.
When she had returned to Israel, she could not separate the idea of New York from the relationship that she was running away from. As comforting as the experience of being at home was, however, Ron began to realize that New York really was the home that she had thought it was originally, before her life had grown too complicated. It occurred to her that New York trumped her pernicious romance.
She also began to confront her unhealthy desire to be as skinny as possible. Ron had been in denial for some time about the fact that she had an eating disorder.
â€œFacing up to the problem allows you to begin the healing process,â€ Ron said. â€œOnly once you are honest with yourself about having an eating disorder can you begin to combat it by understanding what triggers it. Beating something like this is about control, and you can’t control yourself if you don’t believe you have a problem.
With a clear head, Ron returned to New York after nine months in Israel. While studying at Circle in the Square, she had met and befriended actor, director and writer Gregory Simmons. The stage veteran had become something of a mentor to Ron, and during one conversation, Ron mentioned a few things about her experiences in Israel that prompted Simmons to suggest that she needs to write a play.
Simmons was adamant, saying â€œyou have to do this, you have to write this play and get whatever is inside of you onto paper.â€ The actress resisted for some time, but consistent prodding from Simmons finally pushed Ron to write, one area of the arts that she’d somehow managed to avoid. Writing what became known as â€œGutsâ€ has become the driving force in Ron’s life ever since.
In discussing some of her acting work in the past, Ron isn’t particularly enthusiastic. The excitement that is there when she talks about â€œGutsâ€ is nowhere to be found. It’s not just because â€œGutsâ€ is a work of her own creation, however.
â€œAt some point, I decided that I’m only going to do projects that mean something,â€ said Ron, who is drawn more to theater than film for artistic reasons. â€œSome other things might pay the bills better, but I’ve always wanted to change the world ever since I was a little girl, and I believe that ‘Guts’ is something that can make a difference for other people. I’m humbled to have the tools necessary to educate through art. I think when people see this play, it will open their eyes.â€
Whether it is because some audience members might relate to the struggle with an eating disorder, or because others, especially young people in today’s economy, can sympathize with the need to be a teenager for a second time, or simply because of the common journey toward self-discovery, Ron believes â€œGutsâ€ is a universal play.
Her instinct is correct; her play succeeds in finding common ground outside of the easily identifiable prime demographic of women. Although the specific battles that Hellthy faces will be instantly recognizable to the females in the audience, even a male can certainly find himself feeling more than a little sympathetic to Hellthy’s plight. Men too may be keenly aware that our society seems more and more focused on appearance and vanity, and can probably see a little bit of themselves in Hellthy, too. A weak economy isn’t gender exclusive, either; women aren’t the only ones that may be forced to move back in with their parents and deal with the discomfort.
For Ron, the experience of writing about her struggles has coincided with some personal triumphs. In a healthier emotional state than ever before, Ron managed to find love. She met a man a year ago, and believes that she knew from the moment they met that they were meant to be. Her husband proposed on a beach in New Jersey, the same beach where they got married in August. Coincidentally (or not), â€œGutsâ€ takes place on a beach. Ron hasn’t even had time to write thank you notes since, devoting all of her energy to making â€œGutsâ€ a success.
Considering the private nature of Ron’s struggle to know herself, to accept herself, and to feel comfortable in her own skin and surroundings, you’d think the conflicted actress might have had enough of identities for a long time. With acting and performing being such a huge part of her life, however, that doesn’t seem likely.
â€œThe ability to be yourself or someone else is something about acting that is remarkable,â€ Ron said with a twinkle in her eye. â€œIt’s a sensation that makes me very happy.â€
She might have found the answers she was looking for, but as an actress, there are so many more identities left to investigate. You can be sure Ron will be on the case again soon.
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