Hotel Clerk Thinks The Russians are Coming for Him in ‘Duet for Solo Voice’

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Jonathan Slaff in Duet for Solo Voice.

Theater for the New City will present a special production of “Duet for Solo Voice” by David Scott Milton, directed by Stanley Allan Sherman and acted by Jonathan Slaff, from January 28 to February 14, 2010.

The play is a dark comedy about Leonard Pelican, a paranoid night clerk in a seedy Times Square hotel, circa 1970, who thinks that the Russians are coming…for him! He is pursued throughout the play by his paranoid fantasy: a KGB agent named Vassily Ilianovich Chort. The play, then, is the eccentric whirl of Leonard’s entrapment of Chort while the gravelly-voiced Bolshevik is zeroing in for the kill. One actor plays both parts. It’s a play of lively absurdity, cruel comedy and pathos, with hilarious chase scenes and madcap physical comedy.

The play’s website is www.duetforsolovoice.com.

Playwright David Scott Milton was an early member of the avant-garde Theater Genesis, along with Sam Shepard, Leonard Melfi and Murray Mednick. His Off-off Broadway productions included “The Interrogation Room,” “Halloween Mask,” “The Metaphysical Cop,” and “Scraping Bottom.” “Scraping Bottom,” under the title of “Born to Win,” became the Czech director Ivan Passer’s first American film, and starred George Segal, Karen Black and Paula Prentiss. “Duet for Solo Voice” and another play, “Bread,” debuted at the American Place Theater. A revised version of “Duet for Solo Voice,” re-titled “Duet,” was presented on Broadway with Ben Gazzara.

He has had five novels published: “The Quarterback” (Dell), “Paradise Road” (Atheneum), “Kabbalah” (Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich), “Skyline” (Putnam’s), “The Fat Lady Sings” (iUniverse). “Paradise Road” was given the Mark Twain Journal award “for significant contribution to American literature.” A new novel, “Iron City,” is due out later this year.

Actor Jonathan Slaff (www.jsnyc.com/actor) has appeared at Theater for the New City in “Upstate” and “One Director Against his Cast,” among others. At La MaMa, he appeared in the 1991 revival of “Futz” by Rochelle Owens, directed by Tom O’Horgan; “The Pathological Passion of the Christ,” directed by Dario D’Ambrosi; and with the great Brazilian mime and practitioner of “essential theater,” Denise Stoklos, in “Casa.”

He performed with the Kenley Players in Ohio, both as a child actor and as an adult; as a boy, he made his professional debut there with Dorothy Collins and Gene Hollman in “South Pacific.” As an adult, he appeared in “Kismet” (with Hal Linden), Heaven Can Wait” (with Peter Strauss) and “Make a Million” (with McLean Stevenson).

He has appeared in some of TV’s funniest and most classic commercials. His spots for Federal Express and Wendy’s, directed by the immortal Joe Sedelmaier, were in Clio-winning campaigns. Dialog from these spots became part of the American lexicon, like “Parts is parts!” and “You’ve all done an excellent job . . . except Cruller!” His “Hollywood” films include “Beer” with Loretta Swit, directed by Patrick Kelly. In 2007, he played Uncle Knit Knots in the pilot production of Disney’s series for preschoolers, “Imagination Movers.”

Theater for the New City has been a place of many creative beginnings for Mr. Slaff. It was there that he acted in his first musical in New York (“Atonements,” 1978, the production that opened TNC’s former home at 2nd Ave. and Tenth Street) and his first leading role (“Upstate” by Crystal Field, 1998). For about ten years, Mr. Slaff carved over 20 jack-o-lanterns annually to decorate TNC’s Village Halloween Costume Ball. TNC’s Artistic Director, Crystal Field, recruited him to work as TNC’s press agent in 1988 and it was at her theater that he snapped his first theatrical photos (“Three Poets” by Romulus Linney, 1989). Now, in his “day job,” he is a prolific NY theater publicist and theatrical photographer, specializing in new plays, multidisciplinary plays and international works.

Director Stanley Allan Sherman is a multi-talented actor whose directing projects specialize in solo shows and physical theater. He last directed “Paulsen’s Lonely Banquet,” a solo show by John Paulson performed at HERE in 2005. Ross Peabody wrote in nytheatre.com, “Spanning the entirety of human history through the use of traditional theatrical style, dance-theatre, clown techniques, vaudeville, and Paulsen’s own pure, innocent charisma-yet simultaneously staying intimate and small-Paulsen’s Lonely Banquet is a special treat. Funny and melancholic, it elicits a stream of laughter while never straying far from the precipice of a very disturbing and existential contemplation of isolation and mortality.” Sherman has also directed and developed a children’s show, “Bride of Beowulf,” and a solo show for the clown Gautham that toured China and Japan. He has written three full length plays, is a board member of the Association of Theatre Artists and Craftspeople and editor of the ATAC Quarterly. He is also one of America’s foremost makers of leather theatrical masks (www.maskarts.com). He is also proprietor, with Hovey Burgess, of Roving Classical Commedia University (Totally Unaccredited). This is his Theater for the New City debut.

The piece was originally written in 1970 as a solo turn for one actor, but director Stanley Allan Sherman has enlarged the concept slightly by adding live actors to replace sound effects and dummies in making the background life of the hotel. Using the playscript as a commedia dell’ arte scenario, a two-person ensemble of David Zen Mansley and Rachel Krah will enact the hotel patrons with live voices back stage adding comedic surprises.

Set design is by Mark Marcante. Lighting design is by Alexander Bartenieff. Costume design is by Susan Gittens.

Theater for the New City is located at 155 First Avenue, between Ninth and Tenth Streets, in Manhattan. Showtimes for “Duet for Solo Voice” are Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 3 PM. The running time is one hour with no intermission. Tickets are $10 and can be reserved through the box office at (212) 254-1109 or purchased online at www.theaterforthenewcity.net.