A beautician in Queens who survived the World War II concentration camps discovers a war criminal in her neighborhood in the little-known Arthur Laurents comedy, Big Potato, a play written in 1972 and revised recently for a May 19 reading in Manhattan.
Richard Sabellico directs the private 3 PM reading at The Dramatists Guild with a cast including the Polish acting star Elzbieta 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 plays takes place in the early 1970s.
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 Jewish Repertory Theatre. Sabellico suggested to Laurents that the play be explored and Laurents agreed, and did rewrites toward the new reading.
The Jewish Repertory Theatre announced to subscribers that the play would be presented in the 2000-2001 season, but that has not been formalized. 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.
-- By Kenneth Jones