Within hours of an Oct. 19 announcement that the Oct. 22 world premiere opening of Arthur Laurents' Big Potato would be delayed, keeping critics away, Jewish Repertory Theatre artistic director Ran Avni told Playbill On-Line the show will open as scheduled.
Avni said that the previous announcement came from representatives of Laurents, who were, up until the afternoon of Oct. 19, handling press for the show. Avni said Laurents "just doesn't think the play works" and is nervous about what sort of reception it might get. Critics have been invited and are welcome to see the show, Avni said.
The play began previews Oct. 10 under the direction of Richard Sabellico as the season-opener for JRT, which produced the first New York revival of Laurents' first play, Home of the Brave, in 1999.
"I've opened over 120 shows in New York and if I were to open [solely on the basis of] what the critical reaction would be, I would have given up on some hits," Avni said.
Avni called the work a "very important play dealing with important issues." *
Earlier in the day Oct. 19, a spokesman for Laurents and the show — a dark comedy about a Polish born Queens, NY, beautician who lures a suspected former Nazi to her apartment — said the upcoming Sunday opening was being postponed due to the nature of putting a new work on its feet. A new opening date was not announced. Critics were scheduled to attend performances this week. The show is slated to run through Nov. 5 at JRT's new home, the Duke Theatre on 42nd Street.
Paul Hecht and Polish actress Elzbieta Czyzewska star in the world premiere, opening JRT's new season in its new home, the 199-seat Doris Duke Theatre.
The dark comedy, written in 1972 but never staged, concerns a Queens beautician (a concentration camp survivor who is also a Nazi hunter) who discovers a suspected Nazi from the past at a local travel office (they are both seeking information about travel to South America, where many Nazis fled after the war). She lures him to her apartment in Kew Gardens, Queens, where she and her husband (David Margulies) keep him handcuffed in a wheelchair while their Vietnam veteran son (Dylan Chalfy) looks on in numbed disbelief. Richard Sabellico directed a reading of the play earlier this year, and helms the full JRT staging.
The title is a reference to beautician Nessa's nickname for Nazis — she calls them potatoes. The man she brings to her place is suspected to be a "big potato." The play concerns Nessa's wish to right past wrongs and is a portrait of her passionate monomania: To "remember" and to scream loudly, or you will never be heard.
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.
The cast also includes Joanna Glushak (Les Miserables, Sunday in the Park With George) as assimilated daughter Rachel (who wants her named pronounced "Rachelle").
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 1975.
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 Big Potato be taken out of mothballs and explored, and Laurents agreed, penning rewrites toward the new reading and production.
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 in 2000 2001. 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