Playwright Larry Rinkel describes his play as a story about music, religion, and love. But it is much more than that. It's a coming of age tale about faith that has received some heady positive reviews while in development and earlier incarnations. Fellow playwright Doug DeVita describes is as "so relatable to anyone who has ever had to grow from the safety of one's upbringing into the world at large in order to realize one's dreams." Another review describes it as "A fantastic experience for me as a playwright as well as an American Jew. The world created is rich." (Yaakov Bressler). The work, which has grown and developed significantly by Mr. Rinkel, also grabbed the attention of Long Island's Modern Classics Theatre Company in Lindenhurst and will enjoy a special, limited engagement Thursday, December 12, Saturday, December 14, and Sunday, December 15 at the Bacca Center for the arts on Wellwood Avenue, just in time for the holidays. This time around it is directed by Tim Oriani, who played the lead (David Lindenbaum) in Rinkel's play in an earlier production. We had the opportunity to sit and talk with Mr. Rinkel and Mr. Oriani and and get some insight as to what to expect from this new work.
LocalTheatreNY.com: Tell how and when you began the process of writing this play. Describe the evolution of the work that we will currently be experiencing.
Larry Rinkel (playwright): "The initial inspiration was a meeting with a young fellow playwright, an observant Modern Orthodox Jew. The day before, I thought: what if I created a story about a devout young Jewish man attracted to a hedonistic Catholic girl, and whose father was having an affair and choosing to abandon the faith? Since the Jewish Play Project that year had a deadline two weeks away, I asked my friend if he thought I could have a play ready in that time, and when he said “no” I was determined to proceed. I did complete and submit something, but it has gone through substantial evolution since. The main changes after the initial version were to complexify the characters of the boy’s parents, making the father less sympathetic and the mother more so, and to add a major scene where the boy confronts all the characters having an influence on his life."
Timothy Oriani (director): I’ve been so lucky to witness a lot of the evolution of this play. Larry has always been attuned to the interpretations of his characters by his actors. In fact, suggestions from our previous actors and director, and even improvisations from our previous Terry made it into this newest version of the script! As the director now, I have greater influence on the text (although ultimately it’s in Larry’s hands) and feel confident that my tweaks will create a more streamlined show.
LocalTheatreNY.com: What was the initial motivation for writing the play? Has that motivation or inspiration changed?
Larry Rinkel: Although brought up as a Reform Jew, my religious beliefs evaporated shortly after my Bar Mitzvah in 1961. Yet in coming into contact several years ago with a number of Modern Orthodox millennials, I came to realize that religious observance was important to these young people in a way it had never been for me. And so I conceived a play that would explore my own relation to a heritage that I have largely renounced but is still an inescapable part of me. Religion is so often treated negatively in literature and drama that I wanted the challenge of entering sympathetically into the mind of someone unshakably devout. And so the goal was to put Judaism in the best possible light, but if the play works as intended, it suggests it is equally valid to live a totally secular existence (Avram and Carolyn), and even one that is primarily sexual and hedonistic (Terry and Elena).
LocalTheatreNY.com: The show ran earlier in Manhattan, then Long Island City. Tell us about those productions and describe if the material has evolved or changed since you produced it.
Larry Rinkel: The first production, in March 2017 at Manhattan Repertory Theatre, ran 60 minutes and was directed by Christopher Erlendson, with Tim Oriani — whom I had seen act while a student at Adelphi — as David. Following further workshops, I produced it at the Secret Theatre’s UNFringed Festival in August of that year, in an expanded 90-minute version (also with Chris and Tim) that took first place over four other entries. For this upcoming staging in Lindenhurst, the main changes have been editorial, tightening the script to a tidy 80 minutes.
Timothy Oriani: With our first two productions, Larry had the opportunity to flesh out and change some major plot lines to tell a stronger story and further develop David’s character. With his new edits, all the content remains but the writing is so much more efficient! The script is in the best place it’s ever been and that makes me so excited about our upcoming production.
LocalTheatreNY.com: Who do you think will appreciate this work? Describe your audience(s) and why they would connect with the material.
Larry Rinkel: I see three primary audiences: Jewish Americans interested in how they integrate in modern society while maintaining their religious heritage, people interested in classical music and a promising young musician’s development, college students who in any way feel isolated or different by being members of a minority.
Timothy Oriani: A Kreutzer Sonata's themes are certainly universal and I think everyone watching will be able to relate to David’s insecurities and his struggle to come to terms with his own identity. That being said, Larry is exactly right in the demographics to which we are specifically tailoring the show.
LocalTheatreNY.com: This special event, or limited run, how did it come to be and what prompted you to work with Modern Classics, and they with you?
Larry Rinkel: I had known Jim Black, now on the Board of Modern Classics in Lindenhurst, from his days as part-owner of another Long Island theatre. When Jim founded a new company (originally called Phoenix Repertory), I approached him with a couple of possibilities, of which “Kreutzer” seemed the most finished and best suited to his company. Fortunately Jim was happy to sponsor this event in mid-December when there were no Jewish holidays. I then, after seeing Tim direct a production of “Godspell” on Long island, recognized he would be the best person to direct my play, and he was happy to accept.
LocalTheatreNY.com: What kind of discussion or feelings would you like audiences to take with them as they leave the theatre?
Larry Rinkel: The central question is what it means to be a religious person in a largely secular society. But I would hope the play has succeeded in avoiding preachiness, because it suggests that a religious life is valid for some, but not all. If the audience recognizes that David is most truly Jewish the more he is willing to accept the rights of others not to be Jewish, I think I will have succeeded. I would like the audience too to recognize the growth in each of the characters: for example, how David confronts and then forgives his adulterous father, how he supports his mother in her transition from sheltered wife to independent businesswoman, and how he acquires greater flexibility and humor in dealing with roommate Terry — who in turn moves beyond teasing David for his religious beliefs to a genuine acceptance of the beauty of Jewish ritual.
Timothy Oriani: I want the audience to see their own journey of self-identity reflected in David, regardless of religious affinity. Everyone is a summation of the people with whom they spend the most time. I want to bring an awareness of that fact. I’m asking the audience to acknowledge how they have come to their own self-identity.
LocalTheatreNY.com: Tim, when you were first invited to audition for David, what led you to accept the role? And tell us about transitioning to directing the play.
Timothy Oriani: I related deeply to David’s sense of spirituality and his serious nature. And in this story, he gets to do so much! There are six meaty, complex relationships with the other characters, which were a blast to create. He’s got a great emotional character arc. I really felt it to be a showcase for my own acting ability. I’m incredibly excited to create a new David, to enhance another actor’s unique interpretation of him with my own knowledge and ideas. As I told Larry when he first asked me to direct, I have a special place in my heart for this play and its characters. I wanted this production to do the material justice, and I can think of no one but myself who knows this play well enough to do that! Furthermore I love in-depth scene work and character study. My version of the show will certainly highlight the wonderful capabilities of my actors.
LocalTheatreNY.com: What's next for the play? Where would you like it to go?
Larry Rinkel: That is the hardest question for me to answer. I would like first to see a few favorable reviews for Tim, my cast, and my own writing, so that the play can be understood as a uniquely positive exploration of the challenges facing a religious person. Other than that? High schools or colleges? Publication? Off-Broadway?
A Kreutzer Sonata by Larry Rinkel, Directed by Tim Oriana is the story of David Lindenbaum, a freshman Jewish piano major, who finds himself in a conflicted relationship with Elena Gorecki, the beautiful but volatile Italian-American violinist with whom he has been chosen to perform Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata and who is unwilling to take his religious beliefs seriously. Along the way he must also deal with a lovable but crass roommate, his no-nonsense piano teacher, his doctrinaire mother, and his apparently cold and distant father. Can this Orthodox Jewish student find a way to survive in the modern secular world?
The production runs December 12, 14, 15
(Thursday and Saturday at 8PM, and Sunday at 2:30PM & 7PM) at BABYLON CITIZENS COUNCIL ON THE ARTS (BACCA)
149 North Wellwood Avenue, Lindenhurst, NY 11757
CLICK HERE for More information
The production features:
Will Ketter playing David Lindenbaum
Kasia Walczak playing Elena
Isaac J. Conner playing Avram Lindenbaum
Melinda Graham playing Rebekah Lindenbaum and Carolyn
Gabe Calleja playing Terry Michaels
Rosemary Kurtz playing Professor Tomansky