As a struggling young actress in Los Angeles, Yafit Josephson should have been glad to get parts — any parts.
Yet Josephson, 30, who was born in L.A. but raised in Israel from age 2, who served proudly in the Israel Defense Forces before moving to California to study theatre arts, got tired of being cast as a Middle Eastern villain — “the girl with the gun in her hand,” she says.
“At some point I couldn’t handle it. For me, it was, if I take this role, I’m agreeing to the misconception, to the stigma. And I am representing Israel. Something didn’t feel right for me.”
The University of Southern California graduate stopped going to auditions and started teaching at a Jewish school in L.A. And, with fellow teacher and USC grad Suzanne Bressler, she started writing her one-woman show, “New Eyes,” which she’ll bring to the Invisible Theatre Oct. 3-7 (no show Oct. 5).
“New Eyes” debuted at the Santa Monica Playhouse in 2010, where it enjoyed a six-month run. It has been playing to rave reviews ever since, at both public and private venues.
“Ebullient … Josephson is a winning presence,” said the Los Angeles Times. LA Weekly called the show “Hilarious,” adding, “Beneath the comedy lies a serious undercurrent stemming from the ongoing war in the Middle East.” Backstage called it “Inspirational!” and The Jewish Journal applauded, “This show is good for Israel. It shows Israel’s human face and that human face is Yafit Josephson.”
The play “shows Israel in a good light,” agrees Josephson. “It fixes the misconceptions that everybody hears in the media about Israelis and about us being the enemy.”
In “New Eyes,” Josephson plays 18 characters from five different cultures: Israeli, French, American, Persian and British. Half-Persian herself, she portrays both a Persian matchmaker and her own grandmother.
When the show first opened in L.A., “all the Israelis came to see the show,” she says. But additional publicity brought in others in the Jewish community.
“For them, it was very emotional. They were laughing but they also had tears in their eyes,” says Josephson. “Many of the reactions that I got were, ‘Thank you for putting our story out there.’ It’s not just the story of an Israeli. It’s the story of the Jewish community. And beyond that, it’s a universal story.”
Recognizing this, the “New Eyes” team — which includes Josephson’s parents, brother and fiancé —targeted a wider audience. “We had groups of Russians, and Italians, and Koreans. So many people came to see the show, and they said, “You know, we believe you. We hear all kinds of stories in the media and we don’t know who to believe … but here you come with your story and we really believe you,” says Josephson.
A question-and-answer session follows every show.
For her director, Josephson deliberately chose Sammie Wayne, an African-American, to make sure others can relate to the story. And they do. “We’ve had many non-Jewish people who came and said ‘This is exactly my story.’”
The show, says Josephson, has become “so much bigger than me. I feel like I’m on some kind of a mission.”
One of her goals is a tour of college campuses. “Going to USC, the things that I heard from students about Israel — so many people approached me and said, ‘It’s all because of you, you started [the conflict].’ All kind of things, horrible things, without any facts, without any information about the situation in the Middle East. And it’s still happening on campuses everywhere.”
Josephson is also creating an educational kit to be used in L.A. high schools, to help teachers and students explore the show’s universal themes, such as “loving yourself for who you are,” self-confidence, dealing with bullies, relationships with family, and cultural differences and similarities.
Like many an up-and-coming actress/ playwright, Josephson hopes to make a movie of “New Eyes.”
But she also has offers for several other theatrical projects. And none of them, she affirms, involve playing “the girl with the gun.”
For ticket information, visit invisibletheatre.com or call 882-9721.