By Annette Hinkle
Sex. It’s one of those things people just can’t seem to get enough of … especially when they’re talking about it.
Which is why writer Ilene Beckerman and director Michael Disher have conceived a theatrical piece that delves into the minds of women by offering an “insider’s look,” if you will, at this most intimate of subjects.
Beckerman’s play “Sex: What She’s Really Thinking,” which premieres tonight at the Southampton Cultural Center under the direction of Disher, is a series of monologues and vignettes in which several women (and one man) offer candid glimpses into the true nature of sexuality. No subject is taboo and in their words, the cast reveals much about the secret lives of women through first encounters, feelings, fantasies and fears.
But it’s all done with a liberal dose of humor.
“In my mind, it’s like ‘Laugh-In’ with a little vaudeville thrown in,” explains Beckerman who was initially inspired to pursue the topic in book form, not as a performance piece, despite the admission that she’s no “sexpert.”
“I know no facts. But I know about being a woman … that’s all I ever been,” she says. “I wrote about so many things in a woman’s life but hadn’t really written about sex. I started to write this as a book from the point of view of an old bag – I’m 78 and a half — when you’re older you put in the halves. I was at my publisher’s office and talking about how after you’ve been married for a while the sex changes.”
“Then a young girl came in who was married three years and said it changed for her too,” adds Beckerman.
So exactly what changes?
“Men have the drive — women get tired, bored and angry and think, ‘Who cares?’” says Beckerman who notes that the fact even young women seemed to share a perspective similar to her own made her realize there may be more to it.
“I started thinking about not just writing about an old lady,” she says.
So Beckerman reached out to her friend Michael Disher for help in finding research subjects for the topic. Beckerman and Disher first met last year around this time when the Southampton Cultural Center produced “Love, Loss and What I Wore,” a play by Nora and Delia Ephron based on Beckerman’s 1995 book of the same name. Beckerman, who lives in New Jersey, had never acted, but she contacted Disher, who directed to the production, to ask if she could perform on opening night in the role which is based on her.
Disher agreed and the two became fast friends. So when Beckerman needed women who would talk candidly with her about sex, not only did Disher put out a call on Facebook soliciting female friends around the country who would be willing to share, he also convinced Beckerman the piece would be ideal for the stage.
“I thought, ‘Why not? Let’s try it,’” recalls Beckerman.
Most of the women surveyed by Beckerman were married and ranged in age from their 30s to their 50s, and she found differences in their attitudes and preferences had more to do with personality than age.
“Mostly they talked about boredom,” says Beckerman. “I think everything changes when you have children.”
The details the women shared became the basis for Beckerman’s play — stories that she would then expand on or change.
“I wanted who I was talking to to be comfortable and we never really tell the truth to anyone but ourselves,” she says. “This was not scientific research, it was like talking to a lady in line at the grocery store. It’s easier to talk to a stranger.”
For Disher, who helped shape the interviews into a theatrical monologues, one of the goals of the piece was to make it about all woman —which means the subject matter that is universal. He felt it was also important the play not become a “man-bashing” session and for that reason, he and Beckerman included a “he said/she said” section.
But sex is a big and wide ranging subject. Where exactly does one start?
“I’d say virginity,” responds Disher.
That’s in the play, as well as other tidbits offered by various contributors whom Disher wishes would remain anonymous. But when the subjects of your script are friends and actresses you know personally, all bets are off.
“Some ladies were writing to me, ‘I love sex and I have it three or four times a week,’” recalls Disher who wasn’t keen to match stories with faces. “I told Ilene, ‘I don’t want to know who’s story is who.’”
Still, during rehearsals several cast members felt compelled to share their own intimate stories with Disher and one even told him, ‘You know, that piece is mine.’”
This is fertile ground, it seems — and women are more than eager to share.
“We can laugh over these things now,” says Beckerman who admits though hers was a very small and hardly scientific survey of women, the issues which arose time and time again were telling. “Losing your virginity was not a great experience like it is in the movies; learning about sex was random; and you can love your husband, but it’s like having a roommate.”
“I think what the play has beyond the humor is truth underneath it all,” she adds.
One aspect of the script that Disher feels is missing is the point of view of a real-life prostitute.
“We wanted that professional aspect, but we couldn’t find one who would talk,” says Disher. “They all wanted to be paid.”
But some of the seamier stuff that Disher and Beckerman did come to understand along the way included the notion that most every woman has a friend who’s a dominatrix.
“A lot of men like to be dominated apparently,” says Disher. “Every man also wants a ménage à trois, and the woman usually shoots it down.”
The structure of the play follows a chronological arc of sorts, starting with issues important to younger women then moving into what happens as marriage, children and aging set in.
“Act I is lighthearted and carefree,” says Disher. “Act II is far more thoughtful and insightful.”
The reason, says Disher, is because with age, spontaneity is replaced by pensiveness.
“I think people begin to think through not only the causes but the effects of their actions,” explains Disher. “As you get older, if you’re going into a relationship you realize it’s going to be work and you have to be prepared for that work.”
“Not that it takes away from love and romance, but it requires effort on both parts,” adds Disher. “I never knew that as a youngster.”
For Beckerman, this play is less about over-analyzing the issue of sex and more about cutting loose after years of keeping it all to ourselves.
“It’s fun. There’s no lesson to learn,” says Beckerman. “What I would like to get out of it is that women in the audience are saying, ‘Yes!’ I was so awkward about this when I was young. Now I’m able to have a conversation about it — and we’re still nice girls.”
“Sex: What She’s Really Thinking,” runs January 9 through 26, 2014 at the Southampton Cultural Center, 25 Pond Lane, Southampton. Shows are?Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $22 (students $12) seniors $20 on Fridays only.