So you’re a nurse who’s tried acting, didn’t get the parts you wanted, and finally decided that to fulfill your life-long dreams what you really need is to buy your own theatre and become a producer.
That’s the story behind J.E.T. Productions, which will begin previews June 18 for Rachel, a fast-paced new comedy by Carl Stillitano involving a beautiful woman, a Norman Rockwell painting, a loan shark, and assorted men, at New York’s 67-seat Off Off Broadway J.E.T. Theatre, 134 West 26th Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenue, seventh floor). Press opening is June 21.
Behind J.E.T. is the enterprising Judith E. Taranto, a 45-year-old registered nurse of Spanish and Puerto Rican descent, who "still looks fantastic," she says.
Taranto, whose specialty is the emergency room, has been attempting an acting career since 1976, “but I found it increasingly difficult to get roles.” She studied with Lee Strasberg and at HB Studios with Herbert Berghoff, Anne Jackson, and Michael Beckett. “Casting directors told me I was talented,” she said, “but didn’t quite fit the mold. So I decided to produce plays and cast myself in them.”
Her role in Rachel is only as producer, however. Since 1998, Taranto has produced showcases, one-acts, and one-act festivals Off-Off-Broadway. Rachel “is my first first-class production.” She met playwright Stillitano when her boyfriend was cast by Stillitano in his recently-wrapped indie movie Roughneck, which Stillitano wrote, directed, and acted in. “Then, one thing led to another,” she said. Rachel is Stillitano’s third play. His second, A Walk Along the Edge debuted in June, 1994 at the Harold Clurman in New York. It had a six-week run.
This is Stillitano's first attempt to direct his own work onstage. “I know, I know,” said Stillitano at rehearsals. “Everyone’s warned me it’s not a good idea. But, first and foremost, I consider myself an actor. That’s what I’m attached to. I can stand back and look at this realistically.”
Stillitano, 36, is a native of New York's suburban Westchester County. He described the writing process of his play as, “coming about from journeys trying to comprehend this male-female thing and not being able to do it. In that journey I found respect and admiration for women and learned how powerful they are.”
Molly Culver, a former model turned actress, plays the title character, a beautiful woman who’s had many men in her life. Her dilemma has always been that they love themselves more than they love her. “The battle lines are drawn,” said Stillitano, “and it’s every man for himself as Rachel sets out to even the score.”
Culver spent February through April on the West Coast for her first pilot season and secured a manager and agent. She is currently prominent in seven national TV commercials, including those for Head & Shoulders and Kellogg’s Special K.
Completing the four-person ensemble is Peter J. Coriaty, Ed Hardesty, and Lawrence Winslow as the men in Rachel’s life.
Taranto took a three-year lease on the former Inner Space Theatre in January. “You know how some people save all their lives to buy a house?,” she said laughing. “This is my house. And I spent my entire savings on bringing it up to spec.”
Besides a renovated lobby area and dressing rooms, the new J.E.T. Boasts a redesigned tech booth, new lighting and sound system, and flooring. The theatre is available for acting classes and showcases. For rental information or Rachel reservations, call (212) 647-8949.
-- By Ellis Nassour