Text size
Text Print Share Email
May 21, 2009

Estranged since childhood by a hurtful remark, Murray Nossel and Paul Browde made reconciliation a work of art.

By Nancy Ramsey

It would be difficult to find two other men who have quite the story of Murray Nossel and Paul Browde.
Nossel is a psychologist-turned-documentary-filmmaker whose films include Paternal Instinct, about two men who want to have a baby (and do), and Why Can’t We Be A Family Again?, which covers two boys whose grandmother is raising them because their mother is a drug addict.
Browde is a psychiatrist with a private practice in New York, where he is also an assistant clinical professor at New York University’s School of Medicine. Nossel is 47, Browde 48; both are gay, Jewish, native South Africans and resident New Yorkers.
Together, they are Two Men Talking.

The Back Story

Nossel and Browde met in 1974 at an all-white, all-Jewish private school in apartheid-era Johannesburg. One day, a teacher ordered the boys to line up on one side of the room, girls on the other. “And Murray in the middle,” Paul blurted out to instant acclaim. Murray, who was constantly being teased, bullied and called “faggy,” was humiliated and hurt.
Fast forward 20 years. Both had moved, independently, to New York. Nossel had left behind his career as a clinical psychologist in South Africa for life as an up-and-coming playwright in the big city. Browde, a trained physician, had been diagnosed as HIV positive and, thinking his days were numbered, decided to trade his medical career for the theater. He moved first to London, then to New York with a young man he’d met at the drama studio in London. 
His lover’s first gig in New York? Directing a piece by first-time playwright Murray Nossel. Both Nossel and Browde were mortified at the prospect of meeting again, but when they did, Browde apologized.
And then they began to talk. And talk, often a half dozen times a day.
Nossel was working with AIDS patients, at a time when an AIDS diagnosis was more often than not a death sentence. Nossel quickly decided his training as a clinical psychologist “was absolutely useless.”
He found a novel replacement in “a storytelling group, in which people could tell their stories to one another and to me, that at least these stories would live beyond their lives.” Nossel videotaped their stories and evolved into a documentary filmmaker.
Meanwhile, Browde told his friend that he had been diagnosed as HIV positive. Soon they got into an argument about whether people infected with the virus should be open about their disease. Nossel said yes; Browde said no. The argument stretched on.

Take It Outside

A funny thing happened on the way to what might have been an endless disagreement: they decided to take their discussion public.
It wasn’t long before Nossel and Browde were standing before a group of six at a conference of family therapists in Montreal, then 300 people at a conference in Australia, then the Old Vic in London. Now they perform several times a year, in cities ranging from New York to Edinburgh to South Africa—including the school where they first met.
A reviewer for Time Out London wrote that “whether they are bouncing round acting out their daily phone chats as a hummed duet version of Beethoven’s Minuet in G, or describing the moment of Paul’s HIV diagnosis, they’re never less than totally sincere.”
And totally indebted to the teacher who, in 1974, asked them to tell each other a story.
If they met her now, they both say they’d like to thank her. Paul says he’d like to tell her about “the impact of one small action of [hers] on the lives of people for the rest of time.”
Murray would “love for her to see Two Men Talking,” and, he adds, “I think I’d also like to say to her, ‘What’s your story?”

login or register to post a comment