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Two Men Talking

My friend Sue Bernstein who owns Bernstein Artists, an arts management company, invited me to see a show called “Two Men Talking” at the Barrow Street Theater. Though I am an indigenous New Yorker and have lived here many years since returning from a sojourn in Europe, I had never been to this theater. New York –all five boroughs—is a treasure trove of unexpected pleasures, a mecca of talent and innovation.

When she is not traveling, Sue is out in the city most nights keeping an eye on her clients or evaluating new ones. The two men –Paul Browde and Murray Nossel--are new clients. They are both originally from Johannesburg, South Africa and grew up under the apartheid regime. They are both Jewish and they are both gay. It was easy to be white and Jewish in apartheid South Africa, not so easy to be gay. Both men eventually emigrated to the United States. Paul is a psychiatrist and Murray, a trained psychotherapist, is now a documentary filmmaker. They have a theatrical background also—actor and playwright respectively.

They had been in the same class in grade school but did not run in the same crowd or like each other very much. Then, one day in 1974, a teacher broke the class up into pairs,they were paired off together, and told to tell each other a story. Murray complained that he had no story to tell so Paul encouraged him. “Everyone has a story, Murray," Paul said. So Murray told a story and then Paul told a story. When they left school and then South Africa, they did not see each other again for a very long time. Years later, they ran into each other in New York, the mecca.

Now it was Murray’s turn to prompt Paul into conversation. He’d written a play and as he talked to Paul realized they both had interesting stories to tell, that the stories were bursting out of them, and that they should make a play together by telling their stories. So that’s what they did. The play is a result of their collaboration. Much of it is improvised as they perform depending on the stories they want to tell that particular evening. They sing acapella in African languages, in Afrikaans, and in Hebrew. The narrative meanders back and forth in time, is often very funny, sometimes painful, always endearing. They’ve also started a narrative story workshop—real life storytelling —which they take all over the world.

In a Q&A after the show, I asked Murray and Paul whether the African oral story-telling tradition—passed on to them through their African nannies—and the post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission had influenced them. People were invited to the Commission to tell their stories of horror and redemption; it was modeled on tribal traditions of justice. Murray smiled and said, “I would not be here today without it. We began this collaboration just after apartheid fell and the Commission began its work. The play is our own personal reckoning."

For more information about the workshops and a schedule of upcoming performances:
http://www.bernsarts.com/twomen/twomen.html










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