A Letter to Harvey Milk
There are plenty of common challenges for actors. It’s tough for anyone to work with an accent. It’s tough for men to play women, or vice versa. But there may be no more difficult assignment than for a young actor to try to play old. Too often, the result plays like some broad parody of senior citizen-hood, all shuffling steps and stooped shoulders.
Yaron Schweitzer tries his darndest to pour himself into the role of 77-year-old Harry Weinberg in Plan-B Theatre Company’s production of A Letter to Harvey Milk, but the part is like an itchy undersize jacket he keeps squirming around in. Based on a short story by LeslÃ©a Newman, this one-man play opens in 1986 with the elderly San Franciscan wandering on a whim into a community writing class. There he completes one assignment by recalling his friendship with Harvey Milk, the openly gay city supervisor who was assassinated in 1978 along with then-San Francisco mayor George Moscone. His tale intrigues his lesbian teacher, and inspires in Harry more memories of past events he’s not sure he wants to remember.
On a certain fundamental level, A Letter to Harvey Milk fulfills its purpose of warning about complacency in the face of persecution. Harry resists delving into recollections of the Holocaust with the mantra “what’s past is past; what’s done is done,” while Newman reveals an America with its own dangerous shades of intolerance.
But it’s hard to become immersed in the story’s deeply felt emotions while Schweitzer gropes for a comfort zone in both his physical performance and Harry’s Yiddishisms. Every time he gives a right hand wave of dismissal or croaks about getting something to eat, “I shouldn’t starve to death,” it’s a jarring reminder that you’re watching an actor decades younger than the person he’s trying to portray. While solid technical credits help support the production, the center holds a character Schweitzer might eventually nail—in another 30 years.
A LETTER TO HARVEY MILK, Plan-B Theatre Company Rose Wagner Center Studio Theater 138 W. 300 South Through Sept. 26 355-2787