Review Fix chats with the team behind the upcoming production of “Borders,” to find out what makes it unique and one of the most intriguing theatrical productions in New York City this Summer.
About the Production:
Dirty Laundry Theatre opens its door with the inaugural showing of BORDERS premiering at the Hudson Guild Theatre and running June 25, 26, and 29. the play is written by international playwright Nimrod Danishman.
Acclaimed actors Eli M Schoenfeld and Adrian Rifat, appear in this love story for the online age directed by Michael R. Piazza.
Boaz and George meet on Grindr. They are attracted to one another instantly and want to meet in person, but something prevents them from doing so. One lives in Israel, the other- in Lebanon. Will history and its prejudices prevent this union?
Review Fix: What was the inspiration for this project?
Nimrod Danishman [Playwright]: I began to write “Borders” after a conversation I had with Grinder with a guy from Lebanon. I visited a friend who lives on a kibbutz in northern Israel, he was in South Lebanon, and we met in the app. It was a wonderful 24-hour conversation that was full of very basic questions: How is it with you? How is Beirut? How is Tel Aviv? Is it easy for you to be gay in your country? Very quickly we realized that we had a lot in common even though we grew up as enemies. That conversation was over, but I thought to myself: What if we went on? Was this relationship likely to succeed?
A year later I fell in love with an Italian guy who lived in Rome, and we had a two-year relationship. It was a distance relationship, and although we were able to meet a lot, most of this relationship took place on Facebook Messenger. When I decided to develop the play, I realized that the entire play would be in correspondence and deal with the potential of the encounter in the application.
Michael R Piazza [Director]: The main inspiration is the incredible text written by Nimrod Danishman. It’s rare to read a fun and innovative new play, so a lot of our work in rehearsals have been driven by the text.
Another inspiration would be thinking about our world right now and our culture’s obsession with technology. I think there are a lot of criticisms that can be made about how our phones are glued to our hands, but I think this play also wakes you up to how unique and life changing our new ways of communicating can be. It’s amazing to think that these two men could never meet, talk, connect, or even know of each other’s existence without this simple application. Yet because of it, they can develop a deep love and complex relationship despite their countries keeping them from ever meeting.
And finally there’s the underlying political situation between Israel and Lebanon that is a constant elephant in the room in this play. I’m a big Shakespeare fan, and the parallels between Romeo and Juliet are stark. It’s been a constant reference point for our rehearsals, working on the love story between these Israeli and Lebanese men who should be enemies.
Review Fix: What’s your creative process like?
Nimrod Danishman [Playwright]: I started my research on correspondence relationships. I have found that even couples’ relationships that live in the same home exist mostly within the written space. I looked for how people create initial contact with the app, how they express emotion, and how they interpret the written messages. Then I made connections with gays from Lebanon – that was the hardest task. I wrote a play about a potential encounter between an Israeli guy and a Lebanese guy, and finds that Lebanese men do not want to talk to me because I’m Israeli. We managed to create these meetings only through a mediator, but I learned a lot from it. Especially – that our life is very, very similar.
It was clear to me that a significant portion of the correspondence between Boaz and George would be through questions. I think curiosity has tremendous value in the encounter of cultures, so it was clear to me that it would be expressed in the play. In the end, the creative process was very boring. I entered a routine of writing with a schedule and discipline designed to produce a play as soon as possible so that I could submit it to my final project at the School of Performing Arts.
Michael R Piazza [Director]: I’ve come to directing as an actor and as an educator, both of which are pure collaborations with everyone in the room. Everyone in the room has a voice, whether it’s the lead actor or stage management or production folk. So I really think of directing as being the emcee of a large group discussion trying to figure out how to best tell a story and make each moment clear for an audience. Style is so wrapped up in one’s own personal taste, so my taste in theater is to see a real sense of play between performers. So part of my process is to always encourage play and spontaneity, while crafting the beats that need to be more defined or limited. I’ve been known to crack jokes during the darker, more serious moments (much to the annoyance of some actors). I just like us all to remember that play and discovery is the key to creating live moments for an audience to watch.
Eli M Schoenfeld: It really depends on the type of performance you’re in, I think. There isn’t one way I do everything. For this one specifically I read it a lot, I think about it a lot, and in rehearsal I just try to make it as interesting as possible for me and for the other people in the room. I try to be very clear on what’s physically happening at every moment, without getting too lost in ideas about things.
Founding Artistic Director, Maera Daniel Hagage: For me, it always starts with reading the play several times and asking a lot of questions. It always leads to wider and interesting research and provides multiple angles to each scene. Then you bring your insights to the group and start workshopping, brainstorming and try different things until you find it.
Adrian Rifat: It’s all about COLLABORATION! Coming into the play room, learned up on the culture and circumstances of the character(textually and from outside research), sharing those informed choices, and working with the creative team to interpret the material as best we can.
Review Fix: What makes this different or special from other events of this genre?
Nimrod Danishman [Playwright]: The truth is that I do not even know what the show looks like in New York, because unfortunately I have not yet come to watch it. Still, I am a young and impoverished artist …
If you ask about the uniqueness of this play alongside other plays, I think there is a sincere attempt to look at the possibility that exists in the specific world in which we live and try to fantasize ahead. The entire play takes place in correspondence via a dating application. It creates a possible encounter between two men born enemies. It deals with strained relations between countries in the Middle East, and allows a glimpse into the gay life in these countries. I tend to believe that this is a LGBT play without dealing with LGBT materials. They’re gay because I’m gay, and I’d like to see more people who are like us on stage.
Adrian Rifat: The script is so barebones that it is LITERALLY open for any interpretation: multimedia, non-verbal, staged, short/feature film, the possibilities are endless and it won’t really infringe on the integrity of the piece.
Founding Artistic Director, Maera Daniel Hagage: The fact that we were given only the virtual conversation to play with, is genius. It gave us tons of room to explore and absolute freedom for the director to decide what happens on stage. Whether we like it or not, in this day and age, this is our reality. Most of our communication happens in the virtual, almost fantastical space. Tapping back on what Nimrod said- The same conversations we see in the play happen every day, uncountable times, in various locations all around the world between any kind of humans; LGBTQ+ or not, on both sides of a border or not. It really talked to everyone, and that’s the unique beauty of it.
Review Fix: What did you learn/are learning about yourself through this process?
Nimrod Danishman [Playwright]: I learned about myself that I was capable of writing, and also capable of writing dramatic. I learned that I had a lot of pain in my chest and also a fondness for beautiful moments from the relationships I had, such that I still do not completely digest that are over. My ex-boyfriend from Italy is an amazing guy. We met before writing the play, he accompanied me in developing the idea and writing dialogues, and after we parted the play changed. There was a lot more pain, and anger, and the protagonists’ collisions with each other. Suddenly George dared to be angry with Boaz, and not just to please him. Suddenly Boaz dared to be bad to George when he felt that he could give it now. I think it is very important to discover and be aware of the bad sides in you, and give them freedom in art.
Michael R Piazza [Director]: I’m learning a lot about my relationships with people online and also what it’s like to direct something that’s about gay men. I’ve never directed anything about a gay relationship, which was part of my desire to work on this project. As gay culture gets enveloped into our larger monoculture LGBTQ+ relationships start to feel like any relationship; which is obvious but also quite beautiful as the country and world becomes more accepting. But there are also things that have been uniquely queer and should be celebrated. Grindr is such a revolutionary application that has changed dating for everyone gay or straight. Even before Grindr we were using the internet to connect. I was the only out gay kid in my high school. I was using the internet to find other gay teenagers in my area back in the 90s. For a while there the gay community was at the vanguard of a new way to create connections between people, and I think plays like this one are a part of celebrating what we’ve brought to the world…for better or worse…
Adrian Rifat: That I may or not have known a lot of my own culture before doing this piece!
Founding Artistic Director, Maera Daniel Hagage: I’ve learned a lot about my own prejudice. This play is a conversation between two personalities who fall in love. Like every story, we tend to immediately pick a side. Being Israeli myself, I was more inclined to Boaz’s side. It was fascinated to me to realize that I almost wanted to “defend” his side even at times I wouldn’t agree with it, only because we were allegedly from the same side of the fence. I found myself fighting internally the same things I’m fighting on the outside.
Review Fix: What are your ultimate goals for this for the future?
Nimrod Danishman [Playwright]: Reach as many people as possible with this story of two who fell in love
Michael R Piazza [Director]: The immediate goal is to perform this at the New York Theater Summerfest. After that, there are whispers of continuing it on. I really hope this play has life past the festival. It’s a unique piece that I think will speak to a lot of different people. It has love, it has technology, and it delves into the socio-political moment that we and the people in the world are confronting right now. Black Mirror: give us a call. So fingers crossed this can be seen by more folk in the coming year.
Founding Artistic Director, Maera Daniel Hagage: Hope we can make that happen! We’re seeking collaboration to take this beautiful play to as many audiences as possible, in NYC and around the country. Theatre groups, schools, universities, communities- please don’t hesitate to reach out. We want to take this play as far as we can!
Adrian Rifat: This is an extremely important piece, given our current socio-political climate(both foreign and domestic), so introducing this piece to mainstream theatre would be beneficial and contribute to the conversation!
Review Fix: What’s next?
Nimrod Danishman [Playwright]: I’m very happy about the connection with the Dirty Laundry Theatre. They create a cultural bridge in the United States to the culture of a strong local community, and through it opens to a geographical area that attracts a lot of attention. I am very excited that they chose my play as the theatre’s first play, and I hope that this cooperation will produce new projects.
This year I wrote two other LGBT plays: the first about the relationship between a high school teacher and the student, the second about a group of Tel Aviv gays that goes from the bachelor stage full of parties and drugs to the stage of institutionalization and the desire for children. In Israel, we still gay marriage are still illegal, same as adoption. I felt that I had to make another voice in the community’s struggle.
Michael R Piazza [Director]: Don’t know. My dance card is open!
Eli M Schoenfeld: I’m starting rehearsals on a physical theater production that opens in September. Aside from that, I’d love to see this story run in a lot of different places, and bring it to as many audiences as possible.
Adrian Rifat: Had to put the pen down to work on this piece, but immediately following the run, I’ll jump back to writing for my graphic novel. In September, I’ll be in Kansas, choreographing Hays Highschool’s production of Anything Goes!
Founding Artistic Director, Maera Daniel Hagage: So many things!
First, we’re gonna stick around with this play for a while. I’m hoping to find ways to keep it going and touring soon, so we can reach as many people as possible.
Second, we’re already working on our next productions development; one of which is a wonderful family drama that I believe many of us, no matter where we’re from, will find very close to home. More to come!