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Sizing Up Little Big Man
And playwright Marc Goldsmith welcomes one and all to its big-time parameters -- without the annoying tune.
Goldsmith's "Danny Boy" is caught between being a boychick/man, a little big man who feels his dwarfism shortchanges any chance he has at a love life. It's not that love never means having to say you're sorry; it's that it means saying, "Can you bend down so I don't have to talk into your crotch"?
Little by little, Danny learns to stand on his own two feet in a well-written play that offers a different take on what can best be described as heightened realism.
"Danny Boy" is part of the 10th annual New York Fringe Festival, running Aug. 11 to Aug. 19 at Classic Stage.
In naming the play after an Irish tune, Goldsmith also names his own tune when it comes to exploring the big world of little people. Serving as inspiration for the writer -- himself not height-challenged -- was Michelle, a Philadelphia-born, Akiba Hebrew Academy-educated little woman he befriended when both were students at Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary.
Rebbes without a cause? "We were both in a double-degree program, [albeit not rabbinic training], attending both schools," says Goldsmith, also an attorney.
To a degree, it was Michelle who opened up his awareness to the world right under his eyes. "As I got to know Michelle, she became more open about her dwarfism and navigating the single Jewish life on the Upper West Side of New York," says the playwright.
But the dwarfism "was the big elephant in the room," one with a trunkful of theatrical treasures to be mined.
But why the gender-bender? Why did Michelle morph into Danny?
"Actually, Michelle has much more confidence and self-awareness" than the diffident Danny, relates Goldsmith. "And I didn't want to write a play about Michelle."
A fictionalized character, he realized, "would allow me to best confront his strengths and imperfections."
Small wonder, then, that in some ways, says Goldsmith, "there is more of me in the character than Michelle, a certain insecurity, self-doubt, second-guessing one's self."
No doubt, others saw this, too. Like Danny the stage character, the playwright could be apoplectic apologizing for himself: "The stage manager threatened to make me put a dollar in the basket when I apologized for something," just like Danny does.
But Goldsmith is no basket case of social insecurities. "In recent years, I've become more self-accepting," he says.
Accept this: "Danny Boy" is being bandied about as one of the must-see pieces theater-goers should seize on at the Fringe, identified as an up-and-comer on little people.
But then identity is at its core. And where best to wrap a character in the timelessness of tallit than in a fringe festival?
"From the beginning," says Goldsmith, "Danny was going to be a Jewish character. I'm really interested in issues dealing with identity."
Indeed, he's been singled out in the past: "How many times people have set me up on dates because I'm single and Jewish?"
The notion of "stick to your own kind" sticks in the craw of Danny as he explores his own West Side story. But then, casting the character was no walk in Central Park; after all, concedes the writer, there is a short supply of people qualified for the part.
"Most of the little actors are on the West Coast, in film and TV."
While Goldsmith doesn't expect trouble from the Little People Association -- indeed, some members of the New York chapter saw the script and, while not necessarily speaking for the entire group, "gave it their blessing" -- he better check his next bowl of chicken soup to make sure it's as clear as broth before he imbibes.
With some potshots taken at Danny's very Jewish mother in the play -- "And I toned it down from the original" -- maybe the group Goldsmith should be avoiding is not the Little People Association but the Big Jewish Mamas of America?
"Perhaps," he chuckles of that big matzah ball hanging out there.