The Middleman by Marlin Thomas, a featured event at NYSummerFest, premieres Thursday, Sept. 14 at 9pm; Saturday, Sept. 16 at 1pm; and Sunday, Sept. 17 at 6pm at The Hudson Guild Theater, 441 West 26 Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues). New York City. Tickets at brownpapertickets.com/event/2966037.
Marlin Thomas’s riveting new play concerns a pawn broker during the Second World War called upon to be a middleman between the Nazis and our allied forces. He must help hammer-out a deal between two people in Zurich. The collateral: cash, weapons, and prisoners of war. While all have the best of intentions – fighting the enemy and protecting Jewish lives – things can still go wrong … and do.
Mr. Thomas is a prolific author among The New York indie arts scene with acclaimed productions at The Dramatists Guild, Manhattan Repertory Theater, Shades Repertory Theatre, Chain Theatre, Take Ten Festival, Westchester Collaborative Theater, and the Midtown International Theatre Festival. We spoke with him outside his rehearsal studio on the ways of off-off Broadway.
What inspires you as an artist/entrepreneur … and how does it correlate to your decision making when choosing venues, festivals, performance runs, etc for your plays?
Opening nights inspire me to present strong characters who express themselves with powerful words. I seek audiences that value language in all,its subtlety and force. So I seek out festivals that invite a wide range of artistic styles and venues that compel actors to perform their best. I like barebones stages with limited props because that places the dialogue in the central position. Theaters with elaborate technical resources invite those resources to detract from the acting and from the language of the play. They move theater toward the spectacle of things and away from the attention to character and language.
How does independent theater play into realizing your ultimate goals?
I have internal and external goals. My internal goal is to write and produce plays that challenge the audience to think about or to see things differently. I like to work against cultural and historical assumptions and to present the view point of unconventional characters. The Middleman is an example. The central character is a pawn broker who has a side business of bringing people together for business deals that press the boundaries of ethics. He is a purely transactional character who takes neutrality to its extreme. I expect the audience to be appalled by his willingness to do anything to make a deal, but I also expect the audience to be unsettled by the logic of his position. The historical background of the play will also disorient and upend accepted cultural assumptions. The action in Mandated Palestine, the official name of what is now the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, portrays a fringe group of Zionists fighting against the British because they see the British as oppressive as the Nazis. The play is also informed by a history that eerily resembles that of the present. In the early 1940s, Jewish refugees were released onto the Black Sea in barely seaworthy vessels. The British, not wanting to alienate the native Arab population, refused them entry to Palestine. One ship, the Struma, was sunk by a Soviet submarine. More than 700 refugees died.
These goals are achieved in independent theater because it embraces the full meaning of “independent.”