Following a clutch of positive reviews, The Jewish Repertory Theatre plays its final weekend of performances for the first New York revival of Arthur Laurents' groundbreaking drama, Home of the Brave, closing Dec. 26.
Lauded for its ensemble work, directed by Richard Sabellico, Home of the Brave features Robert Sella, late of Side Man, as an anguished, wounded Jewish soldier. The 1945 war drama addresses survivor guilt and anti-Semitism in the U.S. Army, in the South Pacific.
The production opened Dec. 12 at Playhouse 91. Previews began Dec. 4. Laurents , 82, who went on to write Gypsy and West Side Story, served as creative consultant and was said to be thrilled with the revised revival.
Theatre professionals and producers eyed the show with the idea of possibly giving it a longer life, but there was no official word on a future for the production.
The company includes Dylan Chalfy, Mark Deklin, Stephen Kunken, Jeff Talbott and C.J. Wilson. *
In the play, a psychiatrist (Talbott) attempts to unlock the secret to why a physically unharmed Jewish soldier (Sella) cannot walk following a harrowing mission. Chalfy, Deklin, Kunken and Wilson play the solider's wartime Army comrades. The playwright reconsidered some lines in the script, about camaraderie, betrayal and anti-Semitism in a World War II military unit in the South Pacific.
The ground-breaking play cast a light on anti-Semitism in American life, but failed to find a wide audience in its original production at Broadway's Belasco Theatre. It ran 69 performances (opening Dec. 27, 1945 and closing Feb. 23, 1946). It was cited in Burns Mantle's The Best Plays volume that year.
A 1949 film version concerned a black soldier facing racism in the ranks. The decade also saw the anti-Semitism-themed film, "Gentleman's Agreement" (1947).
Designers for the JRT staging are Richard Ellis (set), Gail Boldoni (costumes), Richard Latta (lighting) and Josh Bender Dubiel (sound).
The drama, which may have been too dark and jarring for an audience that wanted to heal the wounds of war, was Laurents' first play. The writer would go on to musical theatre legend as librettist for West Side Story and Gypsy, among other shows, and as a director (La Cage aux Folles) and screenwriter ("The Way We Were," "The Turning Point"). Other plays include Heart-Song, A Clearing in the Woods, The Enclave and Invitation to a March.
In the 1999-2000 season, Laurents is seeing revivals of three of his works in the New York City area. The George Street Playhouse in New Jersey recently revived Do I Hear a Waltz? (the Stephen Sondheim Richard Rodgers tuner based on Laurents' The Time of the Cuckoo) and Lincoln Center Theatre has Cuckoo on its slate for spring 2000. His recent play, Jolson Sings Again, is said to be a possibility for New York City in 2000.
Although Home of the Brave appears in anthologies of the best work of the 1940s, it never received a major New York revival, despite its availability. This staging's visibility is expected to stir regional interest in the work.
Director Sabellico staged the national tour of State Fair starring John Davidson and was responsible for the direction, book and choreography of the hit Off-Broadway revival of the Marx Brothers musical, The Cocoanuts, which played at the American Place Theatre for over a year. Sabellico was Arthur Laurents' assistant director on the Tyne Daly Gypsy. He recently directed and wrote the book for the JRT hit musical, The Jazz Singer, in October and November. Producer Hy Juter is raising money to transfer Jazz Singer to a commercial Off-Broadway run in 2000.
Sella originated the role of Clifford off Broadway and on in Side Man,, and played the Emcee in the new Cabaret revival. He was Freddy in My Fair Lady with Richard Chamberlin, and was Prior Walter in the national tour of Angels in America.
Playhouse 91 is at 316 E. 91st Street in Manhattan. JRT does not perform Friday evenings or Saturday matinees. For $35-$40 ticket information, call (212) 831-2000.
-- By Kenneth Jones