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Seldes, Epstein, Etc. Set for TFANA's Readings Series

Theatre for a New Audience (TFANA), whose current three-play season explores images of Jews as outsiders in the predominantly Christian society of pre-20th-century Europe, has scheduled four free staged readings of modern plays exploring the same controversial theme beginning February 5.

Among the stars taking part in the readings are Alvin Epstein (3 Penny Opera, Waiting for Godot), Marian Seldes (upcoming Deuce, Dinner at Eight, A Delicate Balance), and Mia Barron (The Coast of Utopia - Voyage and Shipwreck).

The Monday night readings mark the inauguration Theatre for a New Audience's Literary Supplement, produced by Associate Artistic Director, Arin Arbus, and curated by the company's Literary Advisor, Michael Feingold.  Concurrent with the company's production of The Merchant of Venice and The Jew of Malta in rotating repertory, this year's series will present 20th-century plays linked to the theme, two of them written in direct response to The Merchant of Venice
The Monday night staged readings, held at The Duke on 42nd Street, will begin with Sir Arnold Wesker's Shylock (formerly titled The Merchant), directed by Arbus, on February 5. The series will continue with A.R. Gurney, Jr.'s Overtime, directed by Evan Yionoulis, on February 12; Among Gentlemen, Feingold's new adaptation of Henry Bernstein's 1908 drama, Israel, directed by Carl Forsman, on February 26; and conclude with John Galsworthy's Loyalties, directed by Ms. Arbus, on March 5. 

All readings begin at 7:30pm  at The Duke on 42nd Street, 229 West 42nd Street.  Admission to all events in Theatre for a New Audience's Literary Supplement is free.  Reservations are a must: 212-229-2819 ext. 10. 
Theatre for a New Audience's current productions of The Merchant of Venice and The Jew of Malta in rotating repertory, with F. Murray Abraham as Shylock and Barabas, continue at The Duke on 42nd Street through March 11. 

Beginning March 29, TFANA will present Oliver Twist, based on the classic novel by Charles Dickens, newly adapted and directed by Neil Bartlett, at The Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College, 899 Tenth Avenue. 

Jeffrey Horowitz, Artistic Director of the 28-year-old Theatre for a New Audience says, "We're reading these plays at a time of Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic rants; when Israel's legitimacy as a state is under attack; when there's a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe; when Iran is simultaneously developing nuclear weapons and holding a conference of Holocaust deniers; when the Pope attacks Islam; when the American government tells us that a group of Muslims want to end our way of life. These plays are more than timely because the hatred, anxiety, violence and savagery revealed in them are all too visible in our world."

Sir Arnold Wesker's Shylock  is described in press materials as a "bold, epic-scale play by one of the leading writers of England's post-1956 Royal Court movement, Wesker's Shylock is nothing less than an alternative telling of Shakespeare's story, this time setting the conflict between Shylock and Antonio in the context not only of a larger society where Jews and Christians interact, but in the context of the philosophic and economic conflicts that molded Renaissance Europe." 

Under its original title of The Merchant, Shylock premiered in America in 1977, directed by John Dexter and starring Zero Mostel in the title role.  The production was scheduled for two brief out-of-town runs prior to its planned Broadway opening, but, after only one performance, Zero Mostel died suddenly. Although the play did subsequently open on Broadway, it was fatally marred by the tragedy of Mostel's loss, as well as difficulties with recasting and reshaping, and it closed after only eight performances. Wesker's newly revised and re-titled text will be heard here for the first time in New York.

Reading Shylock are Alvin Epstein (as Shylock), Marian Seldes (recreating her original role), Mia Barron, Jordan Charney, David Townsend, Carmen Lacivita , Cindy Katz, Robert Stattel, Gareth Saxe, Max Casella, Kate Forbes, Melissa Miller, Jesse Pennington, and Nicholas Kepros.

A.R. Gurney, Jr.'s Overtime is "a frothy, sardonic sequel to The Merchant of Venice, originally produced in 1996, begins with the end of Shakespeare's last act, as Portia and her guests celebrate their victory over Shylock at her estate.  Sliding Shakespeare's characters into the American ethnic conflicts of our own multi-cultural time, Mr. Gurney wittily teases new ideas out of the familiar characters by taking their story several startling steps further."

Reading Overtime are Nicholas Kepros (recreating his original role as Shylock), Kathleen McElfresh, Jedediah Schultz, Maria Elena Ramirez , Edward O'Blenis, Aya Cash, Jeffrey Withers, Rufus Collins, and Brennan Brown.

Henry Bernstein's Among Gentlemen "was produced while the Dreyfus case still divided Paris, this stunning 1908 melodrama by one of the most acclaimed French playwrights of his day produced near-riotous controversy when it premiered.  As a prelude to a political takeover, right-wing Christian extremists campaign to drive a prominent Jew out of polite society, with shockingly unexpected consequences...Titled Israel in its French original, Among Gentlemen produced such lasting acrimony among anti-Semitic groups in France that the opening of Bernstein's next play, Apres Moi, at the Comedie-Francaise produced violent rioting, forcing the company to withdraw the play from its repertoire. Bernstein's continuing success in the Paris commercial theatre of the 1920s and 1930s did nothing to alleviate his status as a target of anti-Semitic attacks, and only in recent decades has France begun to reevaluate his works."

John Galsworthy's Loyalties premiered to acclaim in 1921.  "This classic suspense drama by the Nobel Prize-winning author of The Forsyte Saga hinges on delicate issues of money, ethnicity, truth and social acceptance, which combine to move toward tragedy when a wealthy young Jewish guest at an aristocratic country house finds a large sum of money missing from his room and has the effrontery to accuse a fellow guest. "

Casts for the Bernstein and Galsworthy readings will be announced shortly.

Photo of Marian Seldes by Ben Strothmann

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