Jewish Women’s Theatre Explores ‘Sex, Addiction & Love’

March 11, 2020
Sionne Elise, Michael Gabiano, Jasmine Curry, Joshua Reuben Silverstein: Ronda Spinak

UPDATE: This show has now been postponed due to the coronavirus concerns. JWT hopes to run the show in May. Please check their website for updates.

Telling a dozen stories that range from hilarious to heartbreaking and heartwarming to shocking, “Sex, Addiction & Love in the 21st Century,” the latest Jewish Women’s Theatre (JWT) production, examines these topics in a provocative, relatable way. Chosen from more than 200 submissions by Jewish writers, the pieces include an awkward teenager’s “first time,” a brief sensual encounter between two female friends and the confessions of an Orthodox woman who is a sex addict.

In other stories, a hookup app comes between lovers, a woman learns to just say no to bad sex and a father experiences a roller coaster of emotions during his son’s chaotic home birth.

“There are funny moments and serious moments. Our last show was about mental illness, a very serious topic. I wanted to do something that had a lighter approach to life and sex and love,” JWT Artistic Director Ronda Spinak told the Journal at a rehearsal. “It’s a show about the human desire to connect and love, and how that is accomplished or not accomplished. I think people are going to have a good time and remember their first loves, their unrequited loves, the good and the troubling things about their relationships, and reflect on their own lives as they relate to the stories on stage. That may cause them to have conversations they might not have had if they didn’t come to the show.”

Joshua Reuben Silverstein, a JWT veteran, comically mines his own life in the childbirth and first-time sex stories he contributed. “I think a lot of men have these fantasy-like first times. Mine was not a fantasy at all,” he said. “It was embarrassing and eye-opening about how sexualized I had been. My world became very clear when I had a naked woman standing in it.”

Silverstein, a Los Angeles native whose father is an Ashkenazi Jew and mother is an African American with Southern roots, is married to a Mexican convert. “My wife converted before she met me. She grew up with Jews and loved the culture and related to asking questions,” he said.

As JWT attendees will discover, Silverstein is a talented beatboxer, known for frequent appearances on “Drop the Mic” and “The Late Late Show with James Corden.” He also does a monthly comedy show with Joe Hernandez-Kolski on the second Thursday of each month at the Broadwater Stage in Santa Monica.

“Sex is still something people are uncomfortable talking about, especially in public. Clearly, it’s a conversation we do need to have and move past that,” he said. “I think this show speaks to the emotion and the vulnerability of what sex is for people.”

Sionne Elise, also a JWT veteran, performs in several of the stories and sings a song she composed. “Each piece is so different,” she said. “Each piece incorporates Jewish culture without being about being Jewish. The one that speaks to me the most is about the paramedic who pulls two people apart” after a car accident. “Her hands are doing her job but her heart is in a different place. It’s Shabbat and she reflects on the meaning of that. It’s an important part of the story.”

The daughter of a Russian Jewish mother from New York and a Midwestern Norwegian father, Elise wasn’t raised religious, “but my mom put all the fun Jewish stuff in my life, like Hanukkah and Passover. I didn’t have a bat mitzvah until I went on Birthright, at Masada. That was pretty fun.”

“It’s a show about the human desire to connect and love, and how is that accomplished or not accomplished.”

— Ronda Spinak

Elise, whose first name is a form of Zion, is a Bay Area native and “theater kid” who attended a performing arts high school and remained in Los Angeles after graduating from UCLA. Not long after, she landed the lead role in the critically acclaimed play “Show Pony,” about women in an ad agency. Last summer, she shot “Killer Cheerleader” for Lifetime, and she will spend this summer getting more training in New York with an off-Broadway theater company, The Barrow Group.

Looking to Cate Blanchett and Brie Larson as examples of the kind of career she would like to have, Elise hopes to work on stage, screen and in music in the future. “Music has always been more of a hobby. Theater is my passion. But I’m more interested now that the mediums are combining,” she said. “I want to be like those women who are versatile and work hard and are in control of their career.”

Spinak is already working on the JWT’s next show, “AHA Moment,” about wakeup calls and the decision to do something, or not do something, and the repercussions of that. It opens May 9 and will be followed by “For Goodness’ Sake,” about our moral compass and how it leads us to do good, or not, opening June 11.

Spinak believes the current show will entertain and stimulate contemplation and conversation. “Given the state of our country, no matter what side of the aisle you sit on, a show like this is very welcome,” she said. “A show like this takes you away from politics and all that and puts you in a place to be reflective and thoughtful. It’s the perfect time for a show like this.”

“Sex, Addiction & Love in the 21st Century” runs March 14-24 at the Braid in Santa Monica and locations across Los Angeles, including the San Fernando Valley, Mid-Wilshire and the South Bay. For tickets and location information, visit the website.

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