Finding love out of the closet: “The Book of Oded: Chapter 2”
The coming-out odyssey of a former Israeli serviceman and the life-altering relationship he shared with Gil, his now-deceased gay lover, form the crux of the new solo play “The Book of Oded: Chapter 2,” currently running at the Working Stage Theater.
The narrative, which moves back and forth in time, begins as Oded Yosef Kassirer, the writer, star and subject of the show, remembers being at a pay phone in a Tel Aviv mall and placing a call to Gil in Los Angeles, where they both lived, to say he had just obtained a green card from the American Embassy and could now work legally in the United States. He had had to return to Israel, after a five-year wait in America, to get the document.
Kassirer then flashes farther back to his first meeting with Gil, their mutual attraction and their affair, which was initially conducted with great secrecy because Gil, at the time, was totally in the closet. In the play, Kassirer tells the audience that he was already “out” — at least he was in a bigger closet than the one Gil occupied, as some of his friends knew he was gay.
During a recent interview, Kassirer said that, while the dialogue in the play indicates that he was openly gay in the Israeli army, which doesn’t discriminate against homosexuals, it was actually later, when he was in the reserves, that he was open about his sexuality. Before that time, he said, he wasn’t even out with himself.
Then, prior to meeting Gil, he had a lover in Israel with whom he lived for three years. At that time, he said, while his friends knew he was gay, none of his family members knew.
“When I broke up … this first relationship,” Kassirer recalled, “he was really devastated, and he called my mom. He said something to my mom. I don’t think he meant to out me, but he was really devastated, and he said something like, ‘Tell him I love him.’ And my mom called me and said she wants to come and talk to me. I lived in Haifa at the time. She and my dad came, and apparently my mom knew. They say always that moms know. Well, apparently she knew. My dad was really, really shocked.
“Then, at one point, he really changed. I think at one point he accepted it even more than my mom, because he met Gil. At that point, Gil was more out, and he realized that we love each other, and he was, like, ‘Well, this is love, and that’s it.’ He just accepted it as love, and he didn’t judge it.”
Eventually, Kassirer and Gil move to Los Angeles, where they happily set up house together. The narrative then jumps forward to Kassirer in Tel Aviv, calling to give Gil the news about getting a green card. But Gil has news of his own — he has been diagnosed as HIV positive. A devastated Kassirer returns to L.A., where he spends two years as Gil’s caregiver.
Gil never actually gets sick, but their life changes completely — they are afraid to have sex, and they don’t discuss their feelings or the possibility of death, although Gil says he never wants to stay hooked up to life support.
Ultimately, Kassirer leaves Gil. In the play, he says, “I leave Gil after those two years, and I know now why: It’s because once we got the horrible news into our life, I ceased to exist. From that moment on, it was all about Gil. Nobody ever asked: ‘How does Oded feel?’ I didn’t ask it either.”
Friends side with Gil, and, while being interviewed, Kassirer admitted to having a great deal of guilt over his decision to leave.
“Now I know that it was the right thing,” he said. “It was the right thing for me, and it was the right thing for Gil, because he also met someone the year after I left, and he was with him for seven years, and it was a beautiful relationship.”
He continued, “There’s a lot of stuff I don’t go into much in the [show], because it’s just too heavy, and also because I just didn’t want to go into them.”
Kassirer talks in the play about meeting Oscar, who is now his husband, at an AIDS Dance-a-Thon, and takes us through Gil’s death and to the other side of sorrow.
As he contemplated the major themes he explores in the play, Kassirer observed: “The idea of being in the closet is something that I think is more universal. It’s not just about being gay. I think a lot of people keep secrets, family secrets or their own secrets, or sometimes even wanting to do something and not doing it because of society or whatever.”
He said that he is also examining the issues of mortality and love.
“I really hope that people come out and realize that this [love] is the most important thing, that nothing is more important, that once you love yourself and you accept yourself, you can start shining that into the world.”
The Book of Oded: Chapter 2,” runs Jan. 9 through Feb. 15 at the Working Stage Theatre, 1516 N. Gardner St. Performances are Fri. and Sat. at 8 p.m. and Sun. 3 p.m.
Tickets: $20-$25. Call 323-375-1284, or visit thebookofoded.com.