It's a story that reads like an episode from "The Sopranos." In 1950s New York City, a newspaper columnist named Victor Riesel, whose beat covered labor matters, verbally attacked the leadership of Local 138 of Long Island over the airwaves during a late-night radio program on April 5, 1956. The story unfolds in the Homegrown Theatre Company's Rumba which runs in uptown Manhattan March 19-April 16.
Following the broadcast, Riesel, who had previously criticized Teamsters Union president Jimmy Hoffa and others for their involvement in organized crime, stopped for a late meal. As he left the restaurant at 3 AM, he was physically attacked by a man who threw acid in his face rendering him permanently blind. To coda the already bizarre tale, the man arrested for the assault, Abraham Telvi, was gunned down a short time later.
Rumba, named for the Latin music and dance that was popular at the time is written, directed and choreographed by Wally Strauss, who met Telvi the night he was murdered. The cast includes Asaaf Ben Shetrit, Jason McDermott, Petranella Jefferson, Maria Medina and Larry Bell as columnist Riesel.
Strauss' theatre credits started at the age of sixteen in the Broadway production of Wish You Were Here. His other acting gigs include The Diary of Anne Frank, Sunday in New York with Robert Redford, and the world premiere of Tennessee Williams' Eccentricities of a Nightingale. His directorial duties have taken him to Los Angeles — where he staged Threepenny Opera with Lesley Ann Warren and Burgess Meredith, London — where he worked with Sir Lawrence Olivier at the Old Vic Theatre, and back home to New York City — where he founded the Homegrown Theatre in 1993 and has helmed over 20 plays since.
Rumba plays at the Homegrown Theatre, 2628 Broadway (between 99th and 100th Streets) through April 16. For tickets, call (212) 961-0962. — by Ernio Hernandez