Pairing Up For ‘Sex’

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It was shortly after noon on September 20, 2012, and Ilene Beckerman was in a funny mood.So, she did what any respectable 77-year-old woman would do. She sat down at her computer in New Jersey and Googled herself.

Within the first page of search results, she saw an audition notice from theater director Michael Disher requesting actors for his Southampton Cultural Center production of “Love, Loss, And What I Wore”—a play by Nora and Delia Ephron that was adapted from Ms. Beckerman’s semi-autobiographical novel of the same name.

Suddenly, the author’s disposition shifted. Feeling gutsy, she opened up a blank email and began to type.

“Hello, Michael,” she started. “I’m the real Gingy,” referencing the main character in the play.

And then, she asked to try out for the play.

Two minutes later, her inbox dinged.

“You don’t need to audition,” Mr. Disher wrote back. “Just get here.”

The first time they met was almost three months later, on December 1, at a halfway point—conveniently outside one of Mr. Disher’s favorite restaurants, Thalia, on 50th Street and 9th Avenue in Manhattan. When he pulled on the door, it was locked.

Frustrated, he tried again, and he felt an arm interlock with his. He turned around and looked down. There she was, draped in a black coat—looking like Theda Bara, he said—but rocking eyeliner, lipstick, a nose ring and her signature blue scarf around her hair.

“We could eat anywhere,” she said. “You like McDonald’s? I love the dollar menu.”

Mr. Disher burst into laughter. Within five minutes, they were talking nonstop about films, movie stars, good writing and bad. And they realized they were both Geminis. He was born on June 14, two decades and one day after Ms. Beckerman, whose birthday is June 15.

The director knew this was the start of something. But he wouldn’t have guessed that, a year later, that they would be back in Manhattan, working on an original play together.

Or that the play would be about sex.

On Thursday, January 8, Ms. Beckerman’s and Mr. Disher’s 92-page collaboration, “Sex: What She’s Really Thinking,” will make its world premiere with an eight-member cast on the Southampton Cultural Center stage. The show will be no-holds-barred and will unabashedly discuss it all—from quickies, sex toys and men who lack stamina to contraception, cyber sex and, of course, virginity.

“Every woman has had sex or wants to have sex or will have sex,” Mr. Disher explained last week during an interview at the theater. “So let’s start at the beginning and ‘do, re, mi’ this whole sex thing. Some people may find it offensive. But I think they will realize that they’re listening to something they’ve never quite heard, in a theater, before.”

Corresponding primarily through email and over the phone, the pair buckled down in March, meeting just six or seven times in person to work together. They’ve written the play across Manhattan—at one point meeting up at the Grand Central Oyster Bar, where Mr. Disher “popped” Ms. Beckerman’s “raw bar cherry,” he said, or spreading out across a few tables at Starbucks. Until they were kicked out. The duo had simply overstayed their welcome by one, or three, hours.

These days, they’re writing in the Atrium at Citigroup Center in Manhattan. And there, on December 9, they made two major changes. The first was the production’s billing: “Written and conceived by Ilene Beckerman, with Michael Disher.” She insisted that it be, “Written and conceived by Ilene Beckerman and Michael Disher.”

The second was the play’s final monologue. On opening weekend, Ms. Beckerman will read it—which took some convincing on Mr. Disher’s part.

“I’m not an actress and I wasn’t always an author. I was an accident,” Ms. Beckerman, now 78, said last week during a telephone interview. “If you had told me 15, 20 years ago that I would ever, ever, ever be speaking to more than one person at a time, I would say, ‘Stop smoking what you’re smoking.’ I’m really very shy. That’s why I started writing. And then, when you get older, you figure, ‘What the hell, who cares. Nobody’s interested in an old lady.’”

But Mr. Disher was. And, at first, Ms. Beckerman was scared to meet him. She was even more terrified to make her theater debut as Gingy. Her nerves were still buzzing after she took her bow in front of a packed audience and approached the director during the opening night reception, pulling him aside.

“You realize I’m not through with you,” she whispered to him with a mischievous smile.

She wasn’t then, and she certainly isn’t now.

“There’s just some connection there,” she said. “I don’t know what it is. I just felt comfortable with him—and I’m usually very awkward. I could be myself with him. That’s what did it. It was like I knew him all my life, like the brother or friend I always wanted to have, like fate. I love him.

“That being said, this play could be really awful,” she deadpanned. “I mean, it really could. But that’s alright. It’s not Shakespeare. It’s not David Mamet. It’s real, real life. It’s what it is. Maybe it will speak to women. If it sets them off, talking with each other and sharing stories, that’s all I want from it.”

“Sex: What She’s Really Thinking” will make its world premiere on Thursday, January 9, at 7:30 p.m. at the Southampton Cultural Center. Additional performances will be held through Sunday, January 26, at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and 2:30 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $22 and $12 for students under 21 with ID. For more information, visit southamptonculturalcenter.org.

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