He was an idol to millions, and his music was the soundtrack to American life. In Bernard Kops’ 1991 play, “Playing Sinatra,” an adult Jewish brother and sister in northwest London, living together in the same flat, bond over their mutual infatuation with the Italian-American singer. A revival is now running in the East Village, with Austin Pendleton featured in the cast. It comes just two years after Cary Hoffman’s Jewish tribute to Frank Sinatra, “My Sinatra.”
Directed by Kelly Morgan, “Playing Sinatra” delves into the relationship between the man-child Norman (Richard McElvain) and his sister, Sandra (Kaherine Cullison); the two, who are still living in their childhood home, salve their emotional wounds by listening to Ol’ Blue Eyes. But when Sandra gets romantically involved with a mysterious stranger, Philip, (Pendleton), the sibling relationship will never be the same, despite the frightening and extravagant lengths that Norman will go to preserve it.
Kops, who was born in 1926 to Dutch-Jewish parents in the East End of London, is one of the leading British dramatists of the last half-century. Along with fellow Jewish playwright Arnold Wesker, Kops helped to transform British theater in the 1950s and ’60s from a musty, upper-class, drawing-room style of drama to a grittier, working-class “kitchen sink” genre.
But while Kops has written more than 40 plays since his breakout success in 1958, “The Hamlet of Stepney Green,” his work has seldom been performed in this country. Little wonder, perhaps, given that a pre-Broadway tryout in 1965 in Paramus, N.J., of “Enter Solly Gold,” about a con man pretending to be a rabbi, was scotched when its star, the young Jackie Mason, abruptly quit the play in the middle of a performance.
In an interview, Kops told The Jewish Week that while the characters are not overtly Jewish, Kops sees the play as setting forth a “deeply Jewish theme about the importance of family.”
Indeed, while the Jewish community in London is “amazingly cohesive,” Kops said, and took a major step this past weekend with the opening of a new Jewish Community Centre, it is his family that matters most; he lives in a communal garden in Hampstead surrounded by his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. As he concluded, “Family is the only essential thing and the thing that can survive.”
“Playing Sinatra” runs at the Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave., through Oct. 13. Performances are Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. For tickets, $15, call the box office at (212) 254-1109 or visit www.theaterforthenewcity.net. Cary Hoffman’s show returns to New York for one show on Oct. 19; for tickets, $40, visit www.thecuttingroomnyc.com.