Actor Hal Linden and Old Globe artistic director Barry Edelstein pool their talents for the West Coast premiere of “The Twenty-seventh Man” opening Feb. 14 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park.
The play, which deals with the grim fate that befalls a group of Jewish writers in Russia under the brutal rule of Stalin, is written by award-winning novelist Nathan Englander and directed by Edelstein. The cast also features Ron Orbach, Robert Dorfman, Eli Gelb, James Shanklin, and Lowell Byers.
Linden plays Yiddish writer Yevgeny Zunser. The actor, who gained fans from his television roles on “Barney Miller,” and recently, “2 Broke Girls,” has appeared on Broadway in “Cabaret,” “The Gathering,” “The Sisters Rosensweig” and “I’m Not Rappaport.” His credits off Broadway include “Visiting Mr. Green,” and “A Christmas Carol.” His films include “Out to Sea,” “A New Life” and the upcoming “Stevie D.”
Linden is also a singer and musician who has earned three Emmy Awards and a Tony Award. Edelstein said Linden did not have to audition for his role.
“He was the guy!” Edelstein said. “He’s a wonderful guy and right for this part. The play has a kind of generational mature feel. So to get him and the play together is really great; each one encourages the other.”
Linden said he could have done a concert tour this summer, but found the offer to play Zunser more challenging. “The material was fascinating; it’s not your normal sitcom language,” he said. “It’s not colloquial speech. It takes place in the Soviet Union, and it’s in Yiddish, with a literal translation of Yiddish patterns half the time. I see this as a personal challenge, but also a dramatic challenge, not so much for me as for the director. Part of the play takes place inside a dungeon, yet we’re going to be in the round with no walls. That means we have to create walls mentally.”
The show was originally produced in New York and directed by Edelstein. “The Old Globe production is the same but the design has changed some because we’re doing
it in the round,” Edelstein said.
Many actors can research their roles from historical events, but that was not something Linden could do for this project.
“I’ve been working on it,” he said. “There’s no research that speaks about this event to my knowledge. I don’t have to be accurate historically, just true to the script. The subject is about the death of Yiddish, and you don’t have to research that too far; it’s almost gone … so few speak or write it anymore. More to the point, this play is about how you face impending doom, and find the humor in death, if you can.
“When Barry and I talked about this sometime back, we went over some of the questions I had. My character is dying and Yiddish is dying. He has to come to terms with that and (the realization) is passive and passive does not generally work on stage, active works on stage. I have some ideas, and we’ll see how they coincide with Barry’s. Let’s face it; rehearsal is the only place where an actor can come to life as a character because somebody else wrote the play and someone else tells you how to say it and what to do.”
Linden added that he is “very excited” to work with Edelstein and have the playwright there as well.
“It’s in the rehearsal process that the discovery goes from ink to flesh,” Linden said. “And I love to work with directors because they have minds of information and possibilities, if they’re good. When you have a director that delves, digs and probes, it’s great.”
With its message about tyranny and creativity, Edelstein and Linden both agree “The Twenty-seventh Man” resonates with today’s news headlines. “This is just the right play for ‘our’ audiences,” Edelstein said. “They are composed of people who value intelligence and a story with good, wide appeal.”
Said Linden, “When I first read it, I kind of considered it a niche play that the audience might not have cared about, but with what’s going on in our world, it’s very relevant.”
IF YOU GO: “The Twenty-seventh Man” runs matinees, evenings Feb. 14-March 22 at The Old Globe Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park. Tickets from $29 at (619) 234-5623 and TheOldGlobe.org