IF YOU GO
What: Dramatic reading of “The Soap Myth.”
When: Jan. 31. Doors open at 6:15 p.m., with the performance beginning at 7. The 90-minute show will not have an intermission, and will be followed by a 30-minute Q&A.
Where: Congregation Rodeph Shalom, 615 N. Broad St., Philadelphia.
Tickets: Tickets start at $18. Patron level tickets, which include a patron party and a post-play reception with the actors, are also available.
During Jay Leno’s tenure on “The Tonight Show,” he had a segment titled “Does This Impress Ed Asner?”
When Asner himself was asked in a phone interview if an East Coast tour of minimalist dramatic readings of the play “The Soap Myth” would “impress Ed Asner,” the seven-time Emmy-winning actor behind curmudgeon newsman Lou Grant, let out a laugh and said: “Yes, it impresses me very much, as I’m in it. If you get to it, it’ll impress you very much. I respect the play very much. It’s a beautiful play.”
The tour includes a Jan. 31 performance at Congregation Rodeph Shalom, 615 N. Broad St., Philadelphia. The reading is a tribute to United Nations International Holocaust Remembrance Day — which is Jan. 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Set more than 50 years after the end of World War II, “The Soap Myth” explores how a survivor copes with surviving a horrific event becoming a permanent part one’s identity, and questions who has the right to write history: those who lived it and remember, those who study and protect it, or those who would seek to distort it. A young journalist, read by Blair Baker, is writing a story about a cantankerous Holocaust survivor — played by Asner — and his crusade to expose an overlooked Nazi atrocity.
Among the barbaric acts of the Holocaust was making soap from the fat of slaughtered Jews. According to Asner, the plot came to light during the Nuremberg Trials of the political, military, judicial and economic leaders of Nazi Germany. “It became watered down over the years, and people stopped paying attention to it,” he said. “The man I play in the play, he gets resistance wherever he goes.” Asner’s character, Milton Staltzman, encounters people that argue that the notion of the soap atrocity lacks concrete evidence, despite what Staltzman witnessed firsthand in the 1940s.
In real life, Asner has done work with the Survivor Mitzvah Project, which financially helps Holocaust survivors in Eastern Europe and Ukraine.
Two-time Tony Award nominee Johanna Day will perform the roles of a Holocaust scholar and a Holocaust denier. The cast also includes Ned Eisenberg in multiple roles.
Besides “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Lou Grant” — the latter of which, Asner still believes was canceled in 1982 because he spoke out against U.S. foreign policy in El Salvador and Nicaragua — his other beloved roles include Santa Claus in the movie “Elf” and balloon salesman Carl Fredricksen in Disney Pixar’s Oscar-winning 2009 feature film “Up.” Asner’s exhaustive list of TV and film roles also includes a slave ship captain in the 1970s miniseries “Roots” and a homophobic political campaign donor in CBS’ “The Good Wife.” “I’m a coat of many colors,” Asner said of his acting range.
He also appeared in an uncredited role as an assistant district attorney in Elvis Presley’s 1962 movie “Kid Galahad.” “He was very sweet. I got to meet Elvis and watch his entourage,” Asner said.
Long before rubbing elbows with Elvis, Asner caught the acting bug in college, and later was drafted into the Army during the Korean War. He said: “When I was in France, just before I got out of the Army, I got a letter from (future Second City cofounder) Paul Sills,” who wanted him to join his new troupe full-time. “I didn’t wanna just do improv. I wanted to be legit, and didn’t want to waste my (good theatrical) reviews,” Asner said. “I came (to New York) in ‘61 and never looked back.”
Written by Jeff Cohen, “The Soap Myth” was produced off-Broadway in 2012, and a film of that production was broadcast on PBS.
Congregation Rodeph Shalom Director of Congregational Advancement Catherine Fischer stated in a press release: “Congregation Rodeph Shalom is committed to engaging the community in support of Jewish arts and culture as an expression of our values and tradition, and we look forward to presenting this moving play in our sanctuary, whose grandeur magnifies the power of the drama.”
For further information, call (215) 627-6747 or visit https://rodephshalom.org/soapmyth.