Robert Sella, late of Cabaret and Side Man, will play the anguished, wounded Jewish soldier, Coney, in the first New York City revival of Arthur Laurents' 1945 drama, Home of the Brave, opening Dec. 12.
The Jewish Repertory Theatre production, which began previews Dec. 4 and continues to Dec. 26, is directed by Richard Sabellico and has Laurents himself as creative consultant. The ensemble cast includes Dylan Chalfy, Mark Deklin, Stephen Kunken, Jeff Talbott and C.J. Wilson.
In the play, a psychiatrist (Talbott) attempts to unlock the secret to why a physically unharmed Jewish soldier (Sella) cannot walk following a harrowing mission. Chalfy, Deklin, Kunken and Wilson play the solider's wartime comrades. The playwright has reconsidered some lines in the script, about camaraderie, betrayal and anti-Semitism in a World War II military unit in the South Pacific.
The ground-breaking play cast a light on anti-Semitism in American life, but failed to find a wide audience in its original production at Broadway's Belasco Theatre. It ran 69 performances (opening Dec. 27, 1945 and closing Feb. 23, 1946). It was cited in Burns Mantle's The Best Plays volume that year.
It ran a season. A 1949 film version concerned a black soldier facing racism in the ranks. The decade also saw the anti-Semitism-themed film, "Gentleman's Agreement" (1947). Designers for the JRT staging are Richard Ellis (set), Gail Boldoni (costumes), Richard Latta (lighting) and Josh Bender Dubiel (sound).
There is a hope Home of the Brave might extend and finally find its wider audience, Sabellico told Playbill On-Line.
The drama, which may have been too dark and jarring for an audience that wanted to heal the wounds of war, was Laurents' first play. The writer would go on to musical theatre legend as librettist for West Side Story and Gypsy, among other shows, and as a director (La Cage aux Folles) and screenwriter ("The Way We Were," "The Turning Point"). Other plays include Heart-Song, A Clearing in the Woods, The Enclave and Invitation to a March.
In the 1999-2000 season, Laurents, 81, is seeing revivals of three of his works in the New York City area. The George Street Playhouse in New Jersey recently revived Do I Hear a Waltz? (the Stephen Sondheim Richard Rodgers tuner based on Laurents' The Time of the Cuckoo) and Lincoln Center Theatre has Cuckoo on its slate for spring 2000. His recent play, Jolson Sings Again, is said to be a possibility for New York City in 2000.
Although Home of the Brave appears in anthologies of the best work of the 1940s, it never received a major New York revival, despite its availability.
Director Sabellico staged the national tour of State Fair starring John Davidson and was responsible for the direction, book and choreography of the hit Off-Broadway revival of the Marx Brothers musical, The Cocoanuts, which played at the American Place Theatre for over a year. Sabellico was Arthur Laurents' assistant director on the Tyne Daly Gypsy. He recently directed and wrote the book for the JRT hit musical, The Jazz Singer, in October and November. Producer Hy Juter is raising money to transfer Jazz Singer to a commercial Off-Broadway run in 2000.
Sella originated the role of Clifford off Broadway and on in Side Man,, and played the Emcee in the new Cabaret revival. He was Freddy in My Fair Lady with Richard Chamberlin, and was Prior Walter in the national tour of Angels in America.
Playhouse 91 is at 316 E. 91st Street in Manhattan. For $35-$40 ticket information, call (212) 831-2000.
-- By Kenneth Jones