By Lisa Kava
A powerful play written and directed by Upper West Siders and starring Upper West Siders will be performed as a staged reading here in the neighborhood over the next two weeks after traveling the country. Jeff Cohen’s The Soap Myth highlights a friendship between a young Jewish journalist (played by Liba Vaynberg) and a Holocaust survivor (played by Ed Asner). The characters in the play discuss the question of whether or not the Nazis in fact made soap from the bodies of murdered Jews during the Holocaust. Playwright Jeff Cohen, director Pam Berlin, and actresses Tovah Feldshuh and Liba Vaynberg are all residents of the Upper West Side.
The Soap Myth started as an Off-Broadway production with a different cast in the Roundabout Theatre Company in 2012, Cohen told West Side Rag. About two years later Cohen and his group were invited to do a reading at The Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts. “I went out on a limb and tried to see if I could reach Ed Asner and asked if he would perform the role of the Holocaust survivor. He said yes and that was the catalyst for bringing the play to other venues around the country. The play showed in Philadelphia, Ft. Lauderdale and Massachusetts. Tovah Feldshuh, one of the iconic actresses of her time joined this year,” said Cohen.
The Soap Myth will be performed at B’nai Jeshurun on West 88th Street on Wednesday January 23nd and at the Center at West Park, a venue at the West Park Presbyterian church on Amsterdam Avenue and 86th Street, next Monday January 28th. “My hope is that between those two it will give everyone on the Upper West Side who wants to see the play an opportunity to do so,” said Cohen.
The Upper West Side performances are part of an East Coast tour which includes stops in Baltimore Maryland, Wilmington Delaware, Tenafly New Jersey and Commack New York. The play is being performed over the next few weeks to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is observed on January 27th.
Of the two upcoming performances on the Upper West Side, actress Tovah Feldshuh said “This is my home turf where I have lived since 1973. The Upper West Side is my roots. Whatever survivors are still with us on the Upper West Side I hope they can come to the shows… we would be honored to have them and I hope that the children and grandchildren of survivors will join us.” (Read our interview with Feldshuh about her life on the Upper West Side.)
Actor Ed Asner wrote to West Side Rag about the timeliness of The Soap Myth and why he believes that the play holds an important message. “The role I play is of a man who refuses to be silenced when he sees injustice. The Soap Myth is an extremely important play in any political climate but with the current state of things even more so. Antisemitism is a terrible thing and must be exposed and fought against.” Asked how the play might be able to help in light of current events, Asner responded “Because the play exposes the worst kind of heinous atrocities against Jews, it helps to expose the same kind of heinous behavior against others as well.”
Cohen is excited about bringing The Soap Myth to the Upper West Side and feels a deep personal connection. “After the tragedy in Pittsburgh last fall Congregation Ansche Chesed literally down the block from where I live held a somewhat impromptu vigil program in support and solidarity against hatred, antisemitism and bigotry in all its forms. The Sanctuary was full to bursting with what we estimated to be over 1,000 people, but just as remarkable, there were at least 1,000 more that stood in line around the block to speak up for the Pittsburgh victims. The people were of all ages, genders, colors, shapes, sizes and religions” he said.
“It brought home to me that the Upper West Side is an extraordinary place to live, filled with people of character and heart and compassion and courage. It made me proud to be an Upper West Sider. And I knew that I had an opportunity through my play to raise my voice against the intolerance and hate that is permeating our society. I knew that I had a responsibility to combat these evil forces using the weapons that I have – words and ideas.”
“And in that spirit I was grateful to B’nai Jeshurun and the Center at West Park for stepping up to host The Soap Myth is imbued with the spirit of the Upper West Side.”
The Soap Myth’s upcoming performances on the Upper West Side include Wednesday January 23rd at B’Nai Jeshurun at 257 West 88th Street (for tickets click here) and on Monday January 28th at the Center at West Park at 164 West 86th Street (for tickets click here).