Play readings to promote artistic collaboration at HMC

By: Sherri Kolade | C&G Newspapers | Published February 2, 2016

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FARMINGTON HILLS/WEST BLOOMFIELD — New York City resident Jeff Stolzer walked into a Los Angeles barbershop in the spring of 1991 needing a haircut and walked out with a play idea.  

“It’s one of those things (where) you sit in the chair, he cuts your hair and you talk, and there is this strange type of intimacy,” Stolzer said.

Decades and revisions later, Stolzer will have a reading of his play, “Survivor,” Feb. 21 at the Holocaust Memorial Center, 28123 Orchard Lake Road in Farmington Hills.

The play is about a World War II refugee, Henry, who is devastated by potentially losing his business, so he hires someone to help him in his barbershop. Things take a bad turn when secrets from the past are brought to light.

Stolzer said he used to live in Los Angeles, and the play is set there in 1998, on Fairfax Avenue, which is notably a Jewish district. 

“I used to get my hair cut in a barbershop on Main Street, and the barbershop was kind of a gathering place for a lot of local residents,” he said. 

One day, Stolzer was getting a haircut by a barber who told him things that “blew (his) mind” about his background and experience with World War II.

“It suddenly occurred to me I was in the middle of a play,” he said. 

The screenwriter, at that point, had never written a play.

“This barbershop was an interesting place because all sorts of people came in and out — including the (former) head of the Jewish Defense League, Irv Rubin,” he said.

Stolzer’s play is one of three new plays inspired by the Holocaust to be read at the HMC in February.

In partnership with the Jewish Ensemble Theatre, the HMC will present readings of the plays at 2 p.m. on the first three Sundays in February.

Each play was picked from several hundred as part of JET’s annual Festival of New Plays, according to a press release.

On Feb. 7, the audience will hear “The Groyser,” by James Harmon Brown. In this play, relationships are tested as a woman’s son and his new wife come to visit with surprises in tow. 

On Feb. 14, Sandy Ruskin’s “Struck” revolves around Nazi art thefts told through a present-day lens focusing on a young couple.

Lastly, “Survivor” will be read Feb. 21.

The plays were specially selected for their initial presentation at the HMC, according to a press release. Each will be performed by professional actors and led by directors from JET.

HMC Executive Director Stephen M. Goldman said this is the HMC’s first opportunity to collaborate with JET.

“At least the six years I’ve been here we’ve built lots of partnerships, (but this is the) first time we’ve done plays,” Goldman said.

He added that the play readings will bring a new type of programming and constituent base to the HMC for the first time.

“We see ourselves doing cooperative programming in the future, bringing new people here and bringing a new genre of program to our regular program,” he said.

Linda Ramsay, JET director of development, said that for quite some time, JET has put on an annual staged reading festival with New Works, along with spring play readings. 

About one-third of the scripts deal with the Holocaust on some level.

Because that topic is already a focus at the HMC, Ramsay said it was a natural fit to have the play readings there.

“They are already on that page, and it gives us a chance to expand our patrons to the HMC,” she said. “This is a grand experience. If it is successful, we will continue this as an annual event.”

Ramsay added that the scripts are unique because they don’t deal with the Holocaust in period, but with residual, contemporary issues that have sprung up from that “inherited legacy.”

She added that the event helps the playwrights hear their scripts aloud and provides feedback from the audience.

“Nobody knows how their scripts are actually going to sound until they get it (in front of) an audience and have the opportunity to discuss their opinions,” she said. “These works are all worthy and really good scripts.”

Although the barbershop Stolzer went to that day is no longer in existence, it will live on in the pages of his play.

“Part of it is a little bit of a history lesson,” he said. “Also, I think really thematically it is about what the lessons and the legacy of the Holocaust are and how ultimately we are all human beings, and you can’t have a cycle of violence and retribution.”

Tickets to each play can be purchased at www.JetTheatre.org or by calling (248) 788-2900.

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