From Page to Stage
The Jewish Repertory Theatre of Western NY Zoom staged reading of my play "Finding Mr. Rightstein" on January 21 was great fun. I love the director, cast, and everyone at the JRT who made it happen. Thank you one and all.
Below is my op-ed piece about my theater debut published January 19, 2021 in The Buffalo News.
(And ...for an inspiring writing workshop hosted by the Strand Bookstore on January 28 at 7 pm. here are details and registration information: CLICK HERE )
My View: Writing for the stage exercises new muscles
Nancy Davidoff Kelton
Jan 19, 2021
My play, “Finding Mr. Rightstein,” is headed to Buffalo, my hometown, without me.
Like President-elect Joe Biden, I am embarking on a challenging new path in my 70s. I have been writing books and essays for 50 years. “Finding Mr. Rightstein,” an adaptation of my memoir with the same title, is my first play. The JRT artistic director accepted it two years and three drafts ago. She is “excited.” I am, too; however, I am scared to see the first reading of my personal work about family, mental illness and many Wrongstein men. I will get feedback from the theater professionals and from attendees, which will include Buffalo relatives and Bennett High classmates, at the Q&A afterward. I hope no one suggests I try pottery instead. Whatever anyone says, my gut will say, “Don’t quit.”
In the 1950s, my parents took me to the Erlanger Theater to see “The Pajama Game,” and to Melody Fair next to the Wurlitzer plant to see “The King and I” and “Call Me Madam.” I pronounced Wurlitzer “Wurtilizer.” My parents laughed. I wore a special outfit to the theater. It thrilled me. I saw my first Broadway play, “The Diary of Anne Frank,” at age 10 in 1957 on our first family trip to New York. Seated in the second row of the Cort Theater, I was riveted. After, as my parents and sister walked up the aisles, I could not move. How could they leave? Back in our hotel lobby, we discussed the story, hideout, Nazis and actors’ performances, mainly those of Susan Strasberg and Joseph Schildkraut as Anne Frank and her father. On yearly trips to New York, we saw a comedy, drama and musical. Neil Simon’s plays were first. I have seen “Fiddler on the Roof” five times, from Zero Mostel’s to Steven Skybell’s Yiddish-speaking Tevye. After graduating from NYU, I taught in a Lower East Side public school and wrote at night. My first published essay in 1972, “Lunchroom,” begins with a brief description of the setting and two teachers, Rhoda and Sylvia. The rest is in dialogue. The piece is a scene. A playlet. Dialogue came naturally to me. It still does. A conversation – overheard or imaginary – propels me into writing. I hear voices. Had I not become a writer, I would probably be in a padded cell. Dialogue is not a play’s whole deal. Included are what is unsaid, behavior, entrances, exits, action and much more, I am discovering. So far, here is how playwriting resembles essay writing: 1. Revision – If one is not a reviser, one is not a writer. 2. Criticism – I treasure constructive comments. 3. My gut – It is my deepest truth and ultimate guide. 4. Courage – I reveal what is in my heart. 5. Passion and urgency – If those are absent, what is the point? 6. Discipline – My father wanted me to be a lawyer. I wanted to be a writer. It is work. Constant work. I am at it even when I am not writing. 7. A plan – Yes, but surprising myself and letting what comes to me come out of me is heaven.
I will submit my revised play for future readings and to theaters when they reopen. Biden’s age, eagerness to dive in and hang in inspire me. Joel Grey directed “Fiddler on the Roof” in Yiddish in his 80s, not knowing Yiddish. I am not done.
Nancy Davidoff Kelton, a Buffalo born writer, adapted her memoir, “Finding Mr. Rightstein,” into a play that will have a Zoom reading Jan. 21, through the Jewish Repertory Theatre of Western New York.
An in-person reading there in June was canceled due to the pandemic.