Sex & Love

Chanukah, Lube, and Socialism

Stephen says, "Spit in your hand and lube up his butthole before you mount his ass.  This can’t be that play that shows gay sex but doesn’t address the realities of lube."  Joseph complies and starts humping Max, who is … Read More

By / March 31, 2009

Stephen says, "Spit in your hand and lube up his butthole before you mount his ass.  This can’t be that play that shows gay sex but doesn’t address the realities of lube."  Joseph complies and starts humping Max, who is lying shirtless on the floor, his face rubbing into the ancient carpet.  I slip out quietly to find the bathroom, and pass a Yiddish choir practice on my way to the ghostly, underused toilets.

We are rehearsing my new play, "You Will Experience Silence," in a building owned by Workmen’s Circle, America’s oldest and classiest organization for Yiddish culture and Jewish social activism.  The map in the lobby misleadingly states that there is a "Cemetary" on the fourth floor, and I’ve been joking that we should visit my great grandfather there, since my family has been active in Workmen’s Circle ever since they landed in America.  

My family is still active, in the sense that the older generation – the one that grew up in the labor movement of the 1920s – is still active. But my parents were never members, and never brought us to meetings.  They did, however, bring us to a Workmen’s Circle Chanukah Party when I was very young and my grandmother was the Chairwoman of the Metro DC chapter.  I remember distracting myself with driedls and chocolate until an old man got up and started talking about the "real" Chanukah.  My ears perked up.  He said that the real Judah Maccabee was a tyrant – that he slaughtered many fellow Jews in his battle against the Syrian Greek empire, and that his war of revolution was followed by a civil war between the Jews themselves – a war that had more to do with power than with religious ideology or devotion to God.  

This was the coolest guy I had ever seen in my life.  I couldn’t even fathom the cojones it took to get up in the middle of a Chanukah party, announce that Chanukah is a TOTAL SHAM, and then go ahead and eat more latkes, spin more driedles, and generally have a nice time.  I think my sense of Jewishness really coalesced that day.  I realized it was okay to think that  a tradition is totally stupid and do it anyway – not because you’re a hypocrite, but because it raises the stakes.  Sure, you can sit around talking about war and imperialism and greed whenever you want.  But if you do so while performing the traditions of a holiday that is all ABOUT war and imperialism and greed, it feels more personal.  The ideas become more electric, more tactile.  You can feel the ideas tickle your skin, like something is really happening to you.

That’s my way of being Jewish.

And now I’m working on this play about Chanukah.  Joseph, the one who had to spit in his hand, is playing a sexy Syrian/Greek soldier.  Max, the one with his face in the carpet, is Ezra, a fiesty gay Hebrew teenager.  I play his best gay friend, Judah Maccabee.  (Obviously.)  At times, my actors seem to think it’s weird that we’re staging such a sexually graphic play in a building like this, surrounded by older Jews having meetings, singing songs and speaking in Yiddish.  But to me, it feels entirely appropriate.

My sense of Jewishness has always been about critique, about revolution, about pushing the boundaries of acceptible speech and acceptible thought.  So I’m concerned less that we’re going to offend one of the totally awesome radical Jews in our rehearsal space, and more that Joseph lets out enough spit to realistically take Max’s virginity.  

We open in less than two weeks, so I make a note of it in my pad.