Paul Hecht and Polish acting star Elzbieta Czyzewska are expected to appear in the world premiere of Arthur Laurents' Big Potato, opening the Jewish Repertory Theatre's new season in its new home, the 199-seat Doris Duke Theatre on 42nd Street in Manhattan.
The dark comedy, written in 1972 but never staged, concerns a Queens beautician and concentration camp survivor who discovers a Nazi from the camps living in the New York City borough. She captures him in the beauty parlor. Richard Sabellico directed a reading of the play earlier this year, and will helm the full JRT staging.
Performances begin Oct. 10 in what is being called JRT's new home, the Duke. Previously, JRT offered shows at Playhouse 91 on the Upper East Side.
The new venue is part of The New 42nd Street Studios complex, a 10-story beehive of offices and rehearsal spaces for nonprofit companies, at 229 W. 42nd Street between Eighth and Seventh avenues.
Big Potato performances continue to Nov. 5. JRT stages the production in association with Daryl Roth and Scott Rudin, who will take the show to a commercial next-step if such a move is warranted. The cast is also expected to include Joanna Glushak (Les Miserables, Sunday in the Park With George), David Margulies and Dylan Chalfy (JRT's Home of the Brave).
Hecht (playing Julius, an apparent former Nazi) is a Tony Award nominee for the original Broadway staging of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and appeared in 1776, The Player, The Rothschilds and Noises Off, among many other New York and regional productions.
Sabellico directed a private reading of a revised script of Big Potato at The Dramatists Guild May 19 with a cast including Czyzewska as Nessa (of the beauty parlor), Brian Murray as Julius (the former Nazi), David Margulies as Itzhak (Nessa's husband), Joanna Glushak as Rochelle (Nessa's daughter) and Ryan Artzberger as Sonny (Nessa's son, a Vietnam vet). The play takes place in the early 1970s. Hecht takes the Murray role, Chalfy will play Sonny.
The title is a reference to Nessa's nickname for Nazis -- she calls them potatoes. The guard from the camp is the "big potato." The play concerns Nessa's wish to right past wrongs.
The play had been in the files of Sabellico, Laurents' colleague who assisted the playwright on the Tyne Daly revival of Gypsy and directed the fall 1999 New York City revival of Laurents' Home of the Brave for JRT. Sabellico suggested that the play be taken out of mothballs and explored, and Laurents agreed, penning rewrites toward the new reading and production.
In April, JRT announced to subscribers that Big Potato would be presented in the 2000-2001 season. Two by Two, the Richard Rodgers-Martin Charnin musical about Noah and the Ark, will play the JRT April 21 May 13, 2001. Two more productions are expected. Ran Avni is the JRT artistic director.
Laurents, of course, is the playwright and director who may be best known for the books of Gypsy and West Side Story, but who also penned the screenplay for "The Way We Were," libretti for Hallelujah, Baby!, Do I Hear a Waltz? and Anyone Can Whistle. His play, The Time of the Cuckoo, was revived this season by Lincoln Center Theater and his recent play, Jolson Sings Again, has been staged regionally and is expected to appear in Manhattan in the coming season.
Laurents' autobiography, "Original Story By," was released in early 2000.
For information about the JRT's 27th season, call (212) 831-2001.
-- By Kenneth Jones