Thomas Walters’ “Help A Handicapped God Trot Across the Universe,” directed by Joe John Battista, will open this Thursday, January 16 at The historic 13th Repertory Theatre, almost as if by some divine intervention.
The absurdist play, an experimental piece of theatre, written by the English author, could have easily been lost in the mail. But somehow it did the impossible. “I get hundreds of spec plays emailed to me all the time,” says Mr. Battista, who is also the Artistic Director of The 13th Street Repertory Theatre, an Off-Off Broadway institution still owned by the 102-year matriarch, Edith Ohara, who continues to reside above the famed venue, “This one,” Joe says, “somehow made it into my hands… no email address, just a home address from half-way across the globe.”
Battista could have chosen to never open the envelope, but felt he must. “Understand that rarely do I get an actual hard copy of an un-produced play, in an envelope, mailed to me snail-mail the old-fashioned way. And when I do, it’s long, tedious, and often not worth the followup. We don’t produce on spec like we used to, but out of curiosity I opened the envelope and started reading. It was 40 pages, to the point, quirky, grabbing material that really hit the spot as far as absurdist, experimental theatre goes. As a director, I was particularly grabbed by the way, Mr. Walters’ style left so much room for the actors to create their characters. It’s a fascinating play, no doubt. Yeah, I certainly felt this urge to direct it and had ideas right away.”
“Help A Handicapped God Trot Across the Universe” is story about a family that lives in a cemetery. No, not in a house in a cemetery, but actually outside in the open, on the cemetery grounds. Set in Birmingham, England, the working class family anxiously awaits the resurrection of their dear old grand-dad, Isaac Goats. Described as a theological fantasy, the play was last seen as a reading 35 years ago much to the dissatisfaction of the playwright. Feeling that no directorial or acting skills at that time were brought to the material, he shelved it and authored a few books instead, while continuing a career in teaching that has spanned over 50 years.
“I've been a teacher for the last fifty years and written 'creative' stuff which I stuffed into dusty drawers!” says Mr. Walters. “Julie always encouraged me but she always said, ‘You’re a teacher Tommy and you've put all your energies into that!’” he explains. Oh, yes, legendary actress, Golden Globe winner and two-time Oscar nominee, Julie Walters, happens to be Mr. Walters’ sister. “She's right and so I'm trying to remedy the situation at the ripe old age of 77,” says the playwright.
Mr. Battista decided to go with it. He couldn’t refuse the idea of producing the play. According to Mr. Walters, he had handpicked Battista after doing some research and specifically identifying him as the perfect director to grasp his experimental work and make it come alive on the stage. “The challenge of this play is to bring reality to this absurdity…to bring life to the living, and the dead. It’s a play about theology, and the folly of organized, over-obsessive, over-zealous practitioners,” says Mr. Battista.
A year later, the play, produced by Two Tough Broads Productions (Roslyn Mckay and Wendy Tonken), opens with a cast 11 actors, including some of Mr. Battista’s most trusted talent base, and featuring film, television, and stage actor Everett Quinton (OBIE winning actor with a Drama Desk nomination) as the lead, Joe Goats.
Sometimes when you just simply ask, you get. “I did the play because Joe invited me…I’m playing Joe, father of Jesus. Joe is deceptively complicated…I love solving the puzzle with this fun group,” says Mr. Quinton.
“Help A Handicapped God Trot Across the Universe” runs at The 13th Street Repertory Theatre, 50 west 13th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues, in Greenwich Village.
The cast features, Everett Quinton* as Joe Goats, Zoe Anastassiou* as Mary Goats, Daniel Yaiullo as Jesus Goats, Meridith Nicholaev as Mavis Goats, Harry Bainbridge* as Anthrol SwopWorthy, Tony Del Bono as Archie Gumsport, Thami Moscovici* as Theophilous Spoilboy, Paige Susan Anderson as Dr. Sedgley Wonderstone Corbett, Vilma Hodo as Vixa Stool, Nicholas Munson as Dr. Fletchley Arthur Warmpit, and John Constantine* as Tommy Boom.
Written by Thomas Walters, the play is directed by Joe John Battista, produced by Two Tough Broads Productions (Roslyn Mckay and Wendy Tonken), with Lighting / Sound Design Allison Hohman. Costumes are by Wendy Tonken, Production Assistants are Everett Clark and Marsh Shugart.
Show runs two weekends, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30PM, and Sundays at 4:00PM, January 16 to 26, 2020
Tickets are $20 / general admission. Cash at the box office. Online at https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4483367
*Actors Courtesy of Actor’s Equity Association