PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Sixteen Wounded

Opening Night   PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Sixteen Wounded Broadway got its first taste of terrorism as a dramatic topic April 15 with the arrival of Sixteen Wounded at the Walter Kerr Theatre
From Top: Judd Hirsch, Omar Metwally, Jan Maxwell (left) and Martha Plimpton, Eliam Kraiem, Waleed F. Zuaiter, and Rocco Landesman
From Top: Judd Hirsch, Omar Metwally, Jan Maxwell (left) and Martha Plimpton, Eliam Kraiem, Waleed F. Zuaiter, and Rocco Landesman Photo by Aubrey Reuben

The somber subject matter precluded a festive after-party. But it didn't entirely preempt it. A restrained reception followed the opening, enabling the producers to mark their notable beachhead.

You might wonder where to hold a party for a play about a Holocaust survivor (Judd Hirsch), his Dutch assistant (Martha Plimpton), his Russian prostitute (Jan Maxwell) and his Palestinian apprentice (Omar Metwally)—all mixing it up in an Amsterdam bakery, under the direction of Ireland's Garry Hynes.

Why, Noche, of course. The Mexican restaurant at 48th and Broadway provided its fourth floor facility for the small flow of first-nighters that slowly trickled a block east from the Kerr. Convenience aside, Noche was a nice choice. It turns out—and this required a little detective work—that the play's Broadway-bowing author, Eliam Kraiem, son of an Israeli father and an American mother, was born 30 years ago in Mexico. Who knew?

In any event, Stephen Gabis had his work cut out for him. One of the busiest dialogue coaches in the business, he even taught Hugh Jackman how to do Peter Allen's Americanized Australian. This time he fine-tuned two different Dutch accents for Plimpton and Hirsch. "Recently," he said, "I taped, off '60 Minutes,' Anne Frank's cousin and used that as a model for Judd. Martha's accent is more the Dutch contemporary kids have now. Jan I took around to some Russian people I know. It's a less-is-more accent. She didn't want to sound like Natasha of 'Boris and Natasha.'"

While working on these accents, Gabis also toiled on Roar (turning Annabella Sciora into a plausible Palestinian, for starters) and Intimate Apparel. He's used to overlapping accents. Last week, he moved on to the Garden District of "N'Orleans" to help Patricia Clarkson, Noah Emmerich, Adam Rothenberg and Amy Ryan with their Dixie for their Kennedy Center rendition of A Streetcar Named Desire. This revival is helmed by Hynes, so Gabis may stick around to translate her Irish to the cast. A large contingent from New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre, led by artistic director Gordon Edelstein, attended the opening. Sixteen Wounded started its march to Broadway there in February of 2003. "That's when we saw it and came aboard," said Jujamcyn prexy Rocco Landesman. "There are points for taking a chance on something like this."

Producer Benjamin Mordecai, the primary importer of August Wilson to Broadway, was present more or less in a friend-of-the-court capacity. His next Wilson, Gem of the Ocean, should be arriving here in the fall, he said. The only casting he's comfortable with talking about is Phylicia Rashad, who's to open April 26 at the Royale in Lorraine Hansberry's enduring A Raisin in the Sun. Mordecai also has pointed toward Broadway in the fall a new musical by first time writers, Mark Schoenfeld and Barry McPherson, called Brooklyn. Rosie O'Donnell's former music man, John McDaniel, will multi-task as co-producer and musical director. Jeff Calhoun will likewise do double duty—direct and choreograph. "It's about the spirit of Brooklyn," asserted Mordecai, all smiles.

Deven May, caught exiting the Kerr, said he's bound for London to talk up a Bat Boy there. He's been flitting about a lot lately, from Goodspeed's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn to York's Weird Romance to the Snoopy benefit for the Pied Piper Children's School.

As Broadway entrances go, they don't come any more startling (or, better yet, shattering) than what Metwally pulls off in the opening moments of Sixteen Wounded. It's the envy of any Broadway debuter. He gets a running start and comes crashing through the bakery-shop window, sending glass flying all over the stage. Actually, it's a very brittle plastic made out of a copy-machine toner. "No, I don't get hurt," he said, looking around anxiously for some wood to knock. "I work with an incredible fight director named Tom Schall. He's just wonderful. We worked every day for weeks and weeks on that."

Metwally, 29, is particularly happy his Broadway breakthrough came before his 30th birthday. That gives him a one-year jump on Kraiem, who could pass for 29, too. "I stay out of the sun," he beamed. Getting to the Main Stem at 30 is still a stunner, he said. "It's all mist and haze right now. The idea is one thing; the doing of it another." Not that we're counting and not that it was continuous, but it took him eight years to write the play.

It's surprising, given her extensive screen credits and two praised Off Broadway appearances (Hobson's Choice and Boston Marriage), to note Plimpton is also making her Broadway bow, but she noticed it right off. "It's a completely different world," she said. "Everything's on a grander scale. The audiences are so welcoming, which is lovely."

She and Hirsch have worked together before—in Sidney Lumet's film, Running on Empty. In that, she was the girlfriend of his son (River Phoenix); here they are father and daughter. "It was easy for me to step into his life," admitted Hirsch. "I'm a lot like him. Plus, it's like a window into those times that I never lived through and always thought I should understand a lot better than I do. I jumped at the opportunity to play this role."

Maxwell laughed at the suggestion that the Russian tart she played was an extension of the baroness she did in the last Broadway go-around of The Sound of Music. She's the sexual equivalent of comic relief beside the heavy-duty drama around her. "It's a bit odd for me because I don't get a ride. I come in and out so I have to be pretty heavily into my subtext to keep in there. People say, 'How did the show go tonight?' I say, 'I've no idea.' I don't have any pronouncements or political agenda. For me, she's there for the money."

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