Honoring playwright Mort Levy with ’Replacing Harry’
Julie Hirsch Waxman met her partner, artist Mort Levy, when she was a real estate agent in the 1980s. She was showing him apartments to rent. A short time later, she ran into him on the street and he jumped at the opportunity to ask her out to dinner. Kismet. Waxman and Levy lived together for 25 years until Mort died, last year at age 77.
Levy was a late-bloomer playwright, not starting until he was 52, upon which he completed three plays. Waxman decided it would be a tribute to his work and their life together if she restaged his last play Replacing Harry. It was originally produced at Second Stage in Philly in 1997, and after she contacted director the original director Ty Collins, they set things in motion.
Waxman had been longtime supporter and patron of the theater community, as well as GLBT community causes, in Philly, but she was surprised at the support from Levy’s friends and colleagues via people who contributed her KickStarter campaign to get the production on the boards again. "Mort didn’t want to have a funeral or Shiva, so I think this was one of the ways they were paying their respects," Waxman said.
Dashing back and forth between rehearsals earlier this week, the first-time producer sat in her kitchen for a breather as she attended to last-minute production details. "I’ve never done this, in this capacity, so it’s a nail-biter for me. Definitely a head-trip. Mort was not a businessman, he was an artist."
Waxman points out a picture of Levy, taken in the last year of his life, looking buff in a karate outfit that was taken after he was diagnosed with what was, by that point, incurable non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
"That picture is so Mort. I also found one of him surrounded by the original cast of ’Replacing Harry’," she said. "I’m getting it blown up to display."
Un-pc race relations
The play involves Harry, originally played by Levy, who is a dying monarch contemplating his successor. Vying for the throne is his Queen, which spurs marital jousting, un-pc race relations and scabrous political mayhem.
Were there any changes to his script?
"We’ve updated the play in ways," Waxman explained. "Mort had a Greek chorus, for instance, which we’ve replaced with a corporate media chorus. Actually, I hadn’t known that Ty and Mort had discussed, in 2009, about making updates and Ty had already been editing some rewrites."
Collins was able to enlist half of the original actors to revive their parts. Waxman said she has been inspired by the drive of this cast in reviving the play, especially among the younger new cast members. This is truly an "ensemble cast, "she said, adding, "We have such diversity that is important to the play’s message. It’s a white king, black younger queen, with everything else divided into racial-ethnic factions," she noted. "Mort called it a tragic-comedy, but it is definitely political theater."
Waxman said it has been a rewarding experience of restaging the play. "It feels right. I’ve been sad, in ways, but getting his work out is very important to me. Mort would be angry that I’m so stressed, but I think he’d be really happy about this.
"We’ll see," Waxman said. And with that Waxman referred to her to-do list and headed off to the Second Stage for a final rehearsal.
Replacing Harry at the Second Stage at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom Street; June 19-24, 2012. Tickets: $20. BrownPaperTickets.com | 800-838-3006. For more on the production, visit the Kickstarter website.