“All families are the same, but like snowflakes, they are different,” said actor Bob Balaban recently by phone, explaining the rich detail of the play “Squeaky,” which he will direct this week for a March 28th Guild Hall Zoom reading. Click here to buy tickets.
A group of Broadway all-stars — Jessica Hecht, Marc Kudisch, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Ben Shenkman, and Harris Yulin– are featured in the play based on playwright Jeff Cohen’s family experiences, noted Balaban, “Squeaky works well because it is so accurate to the details Jeff Cohen lived.”
Many families find themselves in situations, the sons in conflict as to how to deal with their parents’ golden years, particularly if problems with dementia arise—but these parents!
“Plays are difficult to write, finding subjects that excite me; then, it’s a puzzle to make them stage worthy,” Cohen told me a few weeks ago by phone from Florida. “One of the challenges was to write an autobiography for the stage and use real names, and to try to avoid being the great hero of my story.”
Jeff Cohen grew up in Baltimore; his father played tennis at the country club, and the dialogue grew out of Cohen’s memory of that. Stan, his father, was called Squeaky because of the way he laughed. Jeff remembers one friend saying, Squeaky’s squeaking. The story attracted not only Balaban to direct, but a dream cast, all noted stage and screen actors.
An outsized, charismatic character, Squeaky will be read by Harris Yulin. The exchanges between Jeff and his brother Rob, a conman, will be read by the actors Marc Kudisch and Ben Shenkman. Connie, who watches over Stan will read by Latanya Richardson Jackson. And their mother Sandy– trust me, you could not invent a character as brilliantly skewed as she is in just one scene– is Jessica Hecht.
Prior to Squeaky, Cohen won much praise for “The Soap Myth,” a meditation on Holocaust denial that starred Ed Asner and Tovah Feldshuh. Maybe Guild Hall will have a full production once the pandemic eases.
Cohen said he never set out to be the chronicler of the Holocaust, although he is now sending around a new play, “The Righteous,” about Eduard Reinhold Karl Schulte, a German industrialist who warned the world about the final solution, and whose identity was not known until the 1980’s. “He risked everything and accomplished very little,” said Cohen. While Squeaky is a departure, it nonetheless stars an unforgettable character.
Balaban said they go into rehearsal and filming early this week, a few days ahead of the filmed reading on March 28th at 7:30 pm. “I don’t have to worry about providing backstory to these actors; the background detail is so rich. Reading through is enough of a rehearsal for these actors. If I have a few notes, I will give them” said Balaban. And when I point out this is the second Passover seder, he quipped, “It’s ok, these characters are Jewish.”