For 13 years, she often dreamed about this night. For the past six months, she’s thought of little else.
Janice Noga was a little surprised, then, that she wasn’t more nervous Thursday night at the official off-off-Broadway opening in New York of “Janka” at the June Havoc Theatre.
“I was more calm today than I was yesterday,” she said afterward.
The one-woman show details how Noga’s mother-in-law survived in the Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps during World War II. Noga and her husband, Oscar Speace, who wrote the script, were able to take the play — which they developed more than a decade ago — to New York thanks to $50,000 raised by supporters in the central San Joaquin Valley.
The script was inspired by a letter that Janka Festinger Speace — Oscar’s mother — wrote to a relative months after the end of World War II. The letter came to light after Janka died. She spoke little to her children about the horrific events she endured. During the play, Noga portrays Janka at various ages, requiring tremendous range and emotional vulnerability.
Opening night went beautifully, said Noga, speaking from the rental apartment she’s staying in during the show’s run. The audience gave a long and rousing standing ovation.
The 98-seat house still wasn’t full, however.
“Our problem is just getting the people,” she said.
One thing “Janka” is up against is a flurry of theater activity during what’s known as Tony Award season on Broadway. With lots of shows opening in April to meet the Tony Award deadline, media coverage can be hard to get.
It’s a big deal even to get a short review in one of the major newspapers or magazines. And if you can entice The New York Times to cover a show — or (hope beyond hope) get a positive review — it’s like landing the Holy Grail.
Noga and Speace, who have a press agent, know that at least one critic has seen the show, but they aren’t sure who. Unlike a Broadway opening, when reviews are all published the morning after, off-off-Broadway reviews tend to trickle out. The production runs through May 2.
In the meantime, Noga — who overcame a brain tumor nearly 20 years ago that left her unable to speak — continues every day to work on the show. Director James Phillip Gates called after Wednesday’s performance and gave Noga 90 minutes worth of notes for tiny changes he’d like to make.
“As long as my director is telling me that it’s a great show, I won’t stop working on it,” she said.