Theater
Tue, 02/15/2011
Special To The Jewish Week
Donna Murphy stars as Raisel in Iris Rainer Dart’s “The People in the Picture.”
Donna Murphy stars as Raisel in Iris Rainer Dart’s “The People in the Picture.”

What the child tries to forget, sociologist Marcus Hansen famously said, the grandchild wants to remember. In Iris Rainer Dart’s new musical, “The People in the Picture,” which opens in April at the Roundabout Stage Company, a former star of the Yiddish theater in Poland, Raisel (Donna Murphy, “Passion,” “The King and I”), survives the Holocaust and ends up in New York in the 1970s. While Raisel’s daughter, Red (Nicole Parker) turns her back on her mother’s past, her young granddaughter, Jenny (Rachel Resheff) embraces the legacy that her grandmother represents.

Directed by Leonard Foglia (“Master Class”), “The People in the Picture” has two acclaimed music writers, Mike Stoller (“Smokey Joe’s Cafe”) and Artie Butler, who has worked with Barbra Streisand, Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond and many others. Jewish theater veterans Lewis J. Stadlen, Chip Zien, Hal Robinson and Stuart Zagnit are featured in the cast. In an unusual move, “The People in the Picture” will premiere on Broadway without having had any regional tryouts.

Dart, who wrote both the book and the lyrics, has published nine novels, including the best-selling “Beaches,” which was made into a film starring Bette Midler. Dart grew up in Pittsburgh as the daughter of Yiddish speaking immigrants from Eastern Europe. “The People in the Picture,” originally entitled “Laughing Matters,” is her first foray into musical theater.

Among the themes of the musical, Foglia told The Jewish Week, is “the desire to be remembered to have our story told. Someone said that we are only remembered for two generations. But everyone’s life journey is an extraordinary one.” One song that sums this up for Foglia is “Remember Who You Are,” a tune that the theater troupe in the musical sings to its director, Chaim (Christopher Innvar), who is also Raisel’s lover, when he hears the siren call of Hollywood, as so many Yiddish stage and film directors did at that time.

Foglia noted that the relationship between mother and daughter in the show reflects the difficulty that children of Holocaust survivors often have in coming to grips with their parents’ wartime experiences. The third generation has a different set of feelings, which often include a greater openness to hearing about traumatic events. “The granddaughter idealizes her grandmother,” Foglia said, “and doesn’t understand why her mother doesn’t want to hear her stories.”

“The People in the Picture” begins previews on April 1 at Studio 54 (254 W. 54th St.) and opens on April 28 with a limited run through June 19. Performances will be Tuesday-Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. with matinees on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. For tickets, $72-$122, call the box office at (212) 719-1300 or visit www.roundabouttheatre.org.

 

When Baby Can’t Sleep:

Daniel Goldfarb’s
‘The Extinction Method’

Getting a baby to fall and stay asleep is a tough challenge for many new parents. In Daniel Goldfarb’s new comedy, “The Extinction Method,” a Jewish couple in Brooklyn Heights finds their own relationship sorely tested by their newborn’s inability to sleep, while another couple across the hall who had resolved not to have children is revisiting their decision. Directed by Sam Buntrock, who won a Tony for his 2008 revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park With George,” the play opens at the Manhattan Theatre Club in May.

Goldfarb is known for his finely limned portraits of Jewish life, including “Adam Baum and the Jew Movie,” about a 1940s movie mogul who wants to make a film about anti-Semitism; “Sarah Sarah,” about a single Jewish woman who adopts a Chinese baby; “Modern Orthodox,” about an observant Jew who turns a secular Jewish couple’s life upside down; and “The Retributionists,” about a postwar plan by a group of Jews to avenge the Holocaust.

Little wonder that Jason Zinoman of The New York Times began a 2009 profile of Goldfarb by asking, “Can a New York playwright be too Jewish?” and noting that “it’s difficult to think of a playwright of Mr. Goldfarb’s generation who has written about Jewish themes for mainstream theater audiences more consistently than he has.”

“The Extinction Method” is drawn from Goldfarb and his wife’s experience with their first child, Isabel, who is now 4. The real-life “extinction method” is based on Dr. Marc Weissbluth’s bestselling books in which he counsels parents to let their babies “cry it out” rather than going to them repeatedly during bedtime or naptime. Goldfarb told The Jewish Week that on the Upper West Side, where he and his wife live, “Everyone has a story about trying to get their child to sleep. But parents have read so much from the experts, with their studies and statistics, that they are afraid to trust their own instincts.”

While the play has not yet been cast, the two couples will be played by the same actors. This will create opportunities for farce, including a lot of dashing around and changing voices. But the play also has its serious side. “It’s the second chapter of a love story,” Goldfarb noted. “It’s about what happens when a relationship evolves when the first child is born. It’s about what you give up and what you gain.”

The second couple’s agonizing about whether or not to have a child in the first place contains its own “extinction” theme, Goldfarb pointed out. “The wife is getting older, and this is her last chance to have a child,” he said. “What will be her legacy, if she has one?”

“The Extinction Method” begins previews May 10 for an opening on May 25 at the Manhattan Theatre Club, 131 W. 55th St. For tickets, call the box office at (212) 581-1212 or visit www.nycitycenter.org.