Theater: That Israeli Girl

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Beautiful Israeli actress Meital Dohan is most recognizable as Yael Hoffman from Showtime’s Weeds. She was the sexy rabbinical teacher who straps on a large black dildo and dominates Justin Kirk’s character, Andy. Yeah, you don’t easily forget that. Now she’s taking to the stage with a starring role in the provocative play Stitching, which shows the dangers of blurring the lines between sexual fantasy and reality.

Controversial writer Anthony Neilson and director Timothy Haskell tell the tale of a young couple, Stu (Gian Murray Gianino) and Abby (Dohan) as they struggle desperately to keep their love alive through their often violent, sadomasochistic and nearly pathological sexual relationship, drawing in elements from prostitution and pornography. In a frenzied circle of betrayals, demands, emotional blackmail and loneliness, the couple’s near-psychotic episodes allow them to come unhinged and allow their ugliest, most buried fears and fascinations spill into their daily lives until they’re inescapable.

“It’s true that a lot of work that interests me is associated with sex,” says Dohan. “Sex is part of life. I believe in dealing with sex in a free way, in its different forms and its value for art. Being a sex symbol is not the goal. It can be something that happens along the way.”

The fact that Dohan is a massive sex symbol and often chooses to pursue explicitly sexual roles is not so surprising, and she has no fear of being pigeonholed as “the Israeli girl,” in the American imagination. National identity did not strike her as something she could feel and experience until she came to the United States, but she’s not concerned about becoming static. Dohan says she chooses roles based on not only their relevance to contemporary lives and relationships but also on the representations of Israeli characters in the United States.

“I’m used to people associating me with my roles when I play assertive or aggressive women, even in Israel,” she says, with a laugh. “In Giraffe I was demure, and I was stupid and manipulative in Ugliest Esty, the American version of Ugly Betty. I’m used to doing lots of different kinds of characters. People have this idea of Israelis as being incredibly militaristic, a people composed of soldiers, so I would like to get a different image fresh in people’s minds.”

Israeli or otherwise, the role of Abby in Stitching is difficult to forget. The play is part of  “In-Yer-Face Theater,” the movement that shocks audiences with its extreme language and images; it unsettles viewers by its emotional frankness and acute questioning of moral norms. Watching Dohan stumble through her nightmares, trapped in a seemingly inescapable world of tortured romance is an image that brands itself into the memory long after leaving the theater.

The appeal for Dohan, however, was not the degree of extremity of the play. “The play is very provocative and graphic in its language and actions, but as I read it I came to understand why that intensity was necessary to the play and aimed to perform it in a way that emphasizes the emotional journey as opposed to how twisted the relationship is,” she explains. “The issues in the play are very relevant to the complexity of emotional relationships today in a modern world with lots of options, in this modern capitalistic world. It’s harder and harder to maintain a relationship. Exploring a role like that and making an audience think is a huge payoff.”
Stitching plays through July 19, at The Wild Project, 195 E. 3rd St. (betw. Avenue A & B), 212-352-3101; Mon.-Tues. 7; Wed.-Sat. 8; Sat. 2, $10-$45.

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