The phone message was time stamped 1:20 a.m. New York time last Friday morning. On it, an obviously still-very-much-awake Janice Noga directed a few dozen exclamation points at the West Coast.
“We got a standing ovation from a New York audience!” Noga said. “I’m so excited that I cannot sleep!”
The first preview performance of Noga’s “Janka,” the story of her mother-in-law’s experience at the Auschwitz concentration camp, had just played its first New York preview a few hours before. The one-woman play, written by Noga’s husband, Oscar Speace, traveled to its off-off-Broadway engagement after supporters in the central San Joaquin Valley raised $50,000.
Now there’s another milestone to mark: Thursday, April 9 is the production’s official opening night at the 98-seat June Havoc Theatre on West 36th Street.
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Critics are invited. The play runs through May 2, and it is crucial in the next few days for the scrappy little show, which is being presented by the Roust Theatre Company, to start getting some love from the hard-to-crack New York media. A positive review or feature article in The New York Times, say, could make all the difference into making the show a runaway hit.
After Thursday’s first preview, director James Phillip Gates told Noga: “OK, Janice, now we start working. I want you to work harder now.”
The pair have been putting in long rehearsal hours since the first preview in addition to the nightly performances.
Gates continues to tweak and refine the show. That makes Noga a little anxious. It took years for her to overcome a brain tumor and surgery that affected her speech, and it can take her awhile to commit things to memory. But she says she relishes the challenge.
Audiences have been on the small size since the preview, with less than half the small theater’s capacity filled. Some of that was likely due to the Easter and Passover holiday weekends.
For the official opening night, Noga is nervous — and excited. But the stage is really starting to feel like Janka’s living room, she says. In the end, all she can do is her best for this, her decade-long dream.
“I just pray that Janka tells her story in a way that touches people,” she says.