Staged Reading of The Second Sun written by James Patrick Nelson
Directed by Jennifer Gelfer
Starring James Patrick Nelson and Eden Epstein
I had the pleasure of talking with playwright James Patrick Nelson before the staged reading of his beautiful play The Second Sun at The Signature Theatre complex Tuesday night and our ten-minute conversation alone left me no doubt that I was going to truly enjoy seeing his story on stage.
The play, he explained, was inspired by a Holocaust survivor who came to his school to speak when Nelson was a young boy. Nelson was taken by the man’s spirit and, more strikingly, his sense of humor. How could somebody go through all of that and still find so much joy in life?
The older man’s story stuck with Nelson through the years as he pursued an acting career, and one day, while hanging out in the lobby of, coincidentally (or, fatefully, as Nelson and his alter ego would feel) The Signature Theatre 3.5 years ago, when the story he wanted to tell finally clicked.
Boy, Max, (Nelson) Meets Girl, Joy, (Eden Epstein) in a New York City bar late one night in 1953. Max is childlike and innocent and sees the beauty in everything. Joy is cynical and jaded but immediately drawn to Max’s optimism. When Joy writes down her phone number for Max, the sight of those digits convinces Max that this meeting was predestined and that he had to live through some of the greatest atrocities ever known to the world to meet her one day.
I loved The Second Sun. The “catch” was one I would never have seen coming. The dialogue was fantastic, with a lot of genuinely sweet and laugh-out-loud lines, which might sound unusual for a play with “Holocaust” in the description, but I have always felt that difficult topics need to be told in unusual ways to be the most effective. With Max, Nelson brings to mind Tom Hanks’ lovable character in Big and his chemistry with the lovely Epstein is spot on.
A few days after I saw the reading, I was able to catch up with the director of the production, Jennifer Gelfer, who most recently produced the Lifetime Movie Showing Roots. A few years ago, she was working on a series called In Between Men, when she met Nelson, who was acting in the show. Nelson had heard that Gelfer was a good “script doctor” and showed her the play he had been working on.
Gelfer knew that Nelson and the story were certainly something special, and knew it was a story that audiences would connect with. An off-Broadway run is being planned and will hopefully happen soon.
It was very clear to me that this story was written with a lot of love. I couldn’t resist asking Nelson if he was ever able to tell the Holocaust survivor he had written the play, and learned that he was never able to get in touch with him to do so. I’m sure wherever he is now; he knows, though—and he’s smiling about it.