Steve Greenstein is sitting at Ben’s Kosher Deli with a script on hand. He’s old school. It’s a typewritten copy of the play he wrote, The Last Jew of Boyle Heights, and it looks as if he’s photocopied it more than a dozen times. We are there to talk about his play’s Off-Broadway debut on April 11th in previews. when I ask him a question about one of the central characters in his play and he pulls open the bulky script, locating the page with great precision, and launching into into a reading of the character’s monologue. This is a bigger than life kind of guy who screams out New York roots, yet has enough East and West Coast experience to demonstrate real perspective. He’s also not the type to go digital or send off pdf versions of his play to just anyone in the hope someone will produce it for him. He champions his own script. He wants to perform it for you, and does so right there in the busy restaurant in almost full voice and volume, bringing a few of his characters to life with no worries about the other lunch patrons or what they might think of him. Steve is a veteran television, film, and stage actor who has toured internationally, and he performs the dialogue for you with so much gusto that the people sitting around us stop to listen. They all seem to be enjoying the impromptu show playing alongside their Matzo ball soup, and brisket sandwiches like it’s a dinner theatre performance, NYC-style. As for me, I admit I love it. This is a great New York theatre minute. Seeing this actor/playwright feel so much enthusiasm is not only refreshing, it’s powerful. And listening to dialogue that comes to life so quickly is a real treat. Especially since he can easily shift from one distinct character to another with such ease. Steve is a storyteller and he relishes in his skills.
“The play has gone through all the necessary steps and now deserves to be Off-Broadway,” he says. It’s a week before EPA auditions and the actor turned playwright, turned co-producer, is a little tentative about all the work ahead of him. He has raised just enough money, has joined forces with a production company (Pine Hill Productions), has hired a general manager/ consultant (Ryan Conway, Davenport Theatrical), and has done everything from staged-readings to an Equity Showcase (which led to a producer stepping in). His next step is a full Equity production running in rep at the Actor’s Temple, the Off-Broadway venue facilitated by theatre veteran Edmund Gaines in the heart of the theatre district. “I’m not looking for major reviews just yet,” he says… “I want to hire really good AEA actors to bring this work to life, and then make some tweaks on the script, and hopefully take it on a long ride.”
He goes on to talk about the characters, a mix of factory workers at a former Ford factory now making toys, who work for Hersh, a holocaust survivor, his son who is in love with a young illegal immigrant Mexican woman at the factory, and a few other characters that are beautifully defined. At the heart of the story is a Chicano, former Vietnam Vet, Ortiz, who is trying to unionize while facing resistance from the owner of the factory, and seeing harassment and deportation from unethical Border Patrol Officers. The story is set in the 90’s, but is remarkably reminiscent of recent border activity that has created so much controversy in the news lately. The play makes a strong statement about immigrations and the American dream, but is not a political statement as much as it is a discussion that now just so happens to be timely. It was written before all these stories of deportation and the immigrant struggle became top stories in the nightly news.
“It’s a sad story that was inspired by real voices and real life experiences I’ve witnessed,” says Greenstein. "I’ve written a few plays over the years and my process begins with hearing dialogue and conversations that inspire me."
Steve is inspired by this story, without doubt. But I can see that he is juggling many things on this journey to Off-Broadway, including finding support in the form of technical hires, a stage manager, and a reader for his upcoming EPA auditions, which I volunteer to do for him since the date is fast approaching and he finds himself short-handed. By the second and third auditions, I’ve managed to connect him with some support staff and he’s all set to go. But I have to admit that being at those auditions and listening to those professional actors bring the dialogue alive is inspiring. The writing is real and emotional, and many of the actors have picked up on it. He has something of substance here and the people around him are noticing.
Jump forward a couple of weeks and the play is on its way, with most of the casting and budget in place. The Last Jew of Boyle Heights by Steve Greenstein is coming together with an opening date scheduled for April. As of this writing, the production is still looking for an Ortiz (think a younger, Chicano James Edward Olmos, and you get the picture). A web site, ticket information and all those goodies are being created and will soon be shared. For now, here's your chance to meet the new breed of producing playwrights, someone forging his way to an Off-Broadway opening, and the challenges it takes to succeed in that journey.
UPDATE: Casting is complete as of early March and the cast includes Jeffrey Farber* as HERSH, Eliud Kauffman* as ORTIZ, Silvia Dionicio* as JESSENIA, Marco Torriani* Plays HOROWITZ, Francisca Muñoz* as MARIA, Michael Quinlan* as McClean, Robert Ierardi* as Bornstein, and Ann Flanagan* as IMMIGRATION OFFICER & PATRON. (*Actors courtesy of Actors' Equity Association).
Craig M. Rosenthal (AEA) is the production's Stage Manager, and Michael Tosto (AEA) is the Assistant Stage Manager. Set Design is by James Dardenne, Costumes by Heather J. Carey, Lighting Design by Tress Fimmano and Music & Sound Design by Andy Evan Cohen.
Tickets for the open-ended production are now available at Telecharge: https://bit.ly/2JEuOX9
The show plays Thursdays at 8:00pm and Sundays at 7:30pm at Actors Temple Theater, 339 West 47th Street, Between 8th and 9th AvenueNew York NY 10036.
It’s a great New York Theatre moment happening right before our eyes!