Review Fix chats with author and playwright Gary Morgenstein, who lets us know what makes his latest production a special one, as well as what’s next for his acclaimed book series.
Review Fix: What was the inspiration for this project?
Gary Morgenstein: In this world of mental illness known as creativity, the idea came to me, fully realized, while I was at a family party. Suddenly my main characters – Harold Wilson, a gruff, no nonsense African American in his late sixties, and Albie Sands, an eccentric Jewish Communist from the 1960s – were standing there near the platters of baked ziti. Harold and Albie also brought the title, A Black and White Cookie. I know. Writers are weird.
Review Fix: What is your creative process?
Morgenstein: As Glinda, the Good Witch of the North said, it’s always best to start at the beginning with the characters whose arc and conflicts create the story which, at the end of the day, is about an unlikely friendship between two very superficially different guys who will not go quietly into that good night. In the drama, Harold is forced to close his East Village newsstand after 30 years because of an exorbitant rent increase and retire to Florida to live with his niece Carol. This doesn’t make him happy. Enter long-time customer Albie. Imagine that Bernie Sanders fell on hard times early in his life and never recovered. That could be Albie Sands. Albie persuades Harold to fight back. But Harold has to surmount his anti-Semitism before he and Albie together can overcome hate, find faith and confront corporate greed – and their own mortality.
Review Fix: Are plays about anti-Semitism unusual?
Morgenstein: Yes sadly. I walk a precarious line by presenting good and decent people with blunt anti-Semitic views, showing why they feel that way without excusing those views, while still allowing them to be decent and sympathetic people. You’d be hard-pressed to find a recent play about contemporary Jew hatred, which is surging world-wide, that doesn’t have to do with the Holocaust or neo-Nazis/white supremacists. Portraying absolute evil is frankly easy. But that’s not good drama.
Review Fix: What did you learn/are learning about yourself through this process?
Morgenstein: I started out writing a play about anti-Semitism and ended up with a play about racial harmony, which was wonderful. In the play, Jews are “you people, those people.” Well, most everyone has been “you people” or “those people.” When you make someone less than human, you delegitimize their rights and values as a human being by justifying treating them differently because they’re “not like us.”
Review Fix: Tell me about the cast. What makes them special?
Morgenstein: We have a terrific cast under the direction of the immensely talented, award-winning Joan Kane, who has such a wise and insightful eye. The beauty of theater is giving your story to others who then invest the characters and the perspectives with other eyes and other layers. The very gifted actors are Jim Fromewick, who plays Albie Sands; Roslyn Seale, who plays Carol; Chris Pisano-Collins, who portrays Mitchell; Julie T. Pham, who plays J.N. Pham, and Mansoor Najee-Ullah, who plays Harold. The roles are very complex and we’re so fortunate to have a team like this who totally get the characters and are willing to take risks. I can’t wait to see them on stage. I’m also very proud to have the play premiere at the prestigious Theater for the New City, which has won countless awards for their productions, especially politically inspired plays.
Review Fix: What are your ultimate goals for this piece for the future? Bottom line, why must someone see this production?
Morgenstein: It’s timely and speaks about our world without preaching. This isn’t a history lesson; there are no speeches. These are just people up there with all their flaws like all of us. Hate doesn’t distinguish. It’s wrong no matter where it comes from and no matter whom it targets. But we need to understand why it happens. And we need to listen to each other, as human beings. I hope that this play will make an audience member think and feel about how they think and feel. Sometimes all you can do is try to change the world one performance at a time.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Morgenstein: The hardcover edition of my critically acclaimed dystopian science fiction-baseball novel A Mound Over Hell will be available March 3 from BHC Press, which will also publish A Fastball for Freedom, the second book in my The Dark Depths series, next year. I’ll also try not to eat too many black-and-white cookies until the play’s over so I don’t look like Russell Crowe. Okay I’m sorry, that was kind of mean.
A production of Ego Actus (Bruce A. Kraemer producer), performances of A Black and White Cookie will be at the Theater for the New City, 133 First Avenue, March 26-April 12, Wednesdays to Saturdays at 8:00pm, Saturdays and Sundays at 3:00pm. There is no matinee on Saturday, March 28. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online at https://www.artful.ly/store/events/19796 – or at the theater’s box office prior to each performance. The production features set design by Mark Marcante, costumes by Janet Mervin, lighting design by Bruce A. Kraemer, sound design by Richard Gross, props by Lytza Colon, and casting by Jennifer Peralta-Ajemian. The Production Stage Manager is Sabrina Morabito and the Social Media Manager is Laura Varela.