From left, cast members Richard Fancy, George Wyner and Sharron Shayne star in “Daytona.” Photo by John Perrin Flynn

Revenge in ‘Daytona,’ life in Brooklyn


Comedy, violence and sex collide in the play “Daytona” by British actor and playwright Oliver Cotton. The work, originally produced in England, is now being presented by Rogue Machine at The MET Theatre in Hollywood.

The comedy comes early as Joe (George Wyner) and Elli (Sharron Shayne), a couple in their 70s, bicker while practicing in their Brooklyn apartment for a senior dance competition. After Elli leaves to pick up her dress for the contest, Joe’s long-lost brother, Billy (Richard Fancy), turns up at their doorstep after a 30-year disappearance.

It seems Billy needs to hide out because he’s committed a violent act of revenge while on vacation in Daytona against an old man who apparently was living under a new identity but whom he recognized as being responsible for innumerable deaths when they were in a World War II concentration camp.

“The brothers were in the same camp, where they saw their father killed, and she [Elli] was in the women’s camp — Bromberg,” director Elina de Santos explained in a recent interview.  “They knew each other before.”

The brothers and Elli survived, found each other, then went to America and made a life. For 10 years the three of them were together.

The director, who is not Jewish, speculated that being together during those years would bring up everything about their horrific past, a past she believes they’re running from in different ways. Joe tells Billy that people killed in the camps are dead and nothing will bring them back.

And what Billy does, de Santos explained, is force them to recall their days in the camp “because, in a way, you never really can get away from that. There’s no way. It was, and it is always, with you.”

Billy also reveals that, in the 30 years since he left them and the business he had with his brother, taking his share of the money with him, he removed the tattooed number from his arm; assumed the identity of a dead, non-Jewish man; got false papers; moved to Ohio; married a gentile woman; raised a family and regularly attended church — all while starting a successful real estate business.

De Santos said a variety of themes emerge from the piece.

There is the issue of identity. “I don’t think there’s any way to escape your identity, who you really are. That’s certainly what Billy learns — as much as he tried,” she said. “I think he ran away because he wanted to get away from that experience that they all had together.”

She added, “He thinks he’s just getting away from Elli and his brother, but I think he’s really getting away from being Jewish, of what it did to them; how, for him, it ruined his life. He wants to start a new life and, for him, starting a new life is not being who you were. He could pass. He didn’t have the accent his brother had. He didn’t carry that. He learned English really well and was able to sound like an American.”

During the 2014 run of the play in London, Cotton, the playwright, said in an interview that one theme he explores in the play is about displaced persons starting over, which they do in America. “There’s a lot in the play to indicate that that was the case,” de Santos said. “And then Billy leaves, and they have to start over again. They’re displaced again.”

And there is the theme of family. Joe insists that Billy turn himself in for his act of violence, and, at first, is going to let Billy go alone. But, near the play’s end in the second act, he stands by him.

“He doesn’t stand by him, saying, ‘You were right to do it.’ He stands by him [saying], ‘I’m your brother.’ And Joe walks him down to the precinct and doesn’t go in with him. He walks with him to let him know that, ‘You’re still my brother. You’re still my brother.’ And that’s what wins out. What wins out here is family. He accepts his brother,” the director said.

Also in the second act, a sexual secret is revealed that adds to Billy’s motivation for running away.

To de Santos, every level of the play has a certain richness, and she finds the exploration of a sibling relationship extraordinary.

“My brother doesn‘t talk to me,” she said. “So, that it could be 30 years that these brothers haven’t talked to each other is not out of my experience. I think it’s because they shared … they have this past that is much harder to take into their lives when you have such a horrific thing happen.”

She concluded, “We should never forget. We should never forget what it has done to people — how trauma of that sort, how the Holocaust, affected people.”

“Daytona” is being presented by Rogue Machine at The MET Theatre in Hollywood. For show times and tickets, visit roguemachinetheatre.net/daytona.

Israel flying high with NASCAR


There is not a long and storied history of Jews in motorsports. The cast of characters is limited and filled mostly with names like Jody and Tomas Scheckter, François Cevert and Peter Revson, all of which likely means little to the average American, and less to the average American Jew. Even Kenny “The King of Speed” Bernstein, a Motorsports Hall-of-Famer, isn’t well known outside racing circles. Perhaps the most iconic Jewish racer was Paul Newman, a man far better known for his acting and activism. And if you narrow the story’s scope to Israel, it becomes so short it could be a haiku: Chanoch Nissany /did not race in the Grand Prix /how good could he be?

So it might have come as some surprise if you happened to catch the trials for this year’s Daytona 500 and caught an odd sight on the track. There, among the cars emblazoned with the logos of corporations like Target, Burger King, GEICO, FedEx and Miller, was the No. 49 car, a bald eagle on its hood, clutching the flags of Israel and America in its talons, with the words “United We Stand” above its grille.

If your first instinct is to suspect that this development is AIPAC’s latest foray into public relations, or that a pro-Israel billionaire like Sheldon Adelson decided to drop a couple million on a car to bring his message to the masses, you’d be wrong. In fact, the No. 49 car was conceived in a partnership between Robinson-Blakeney Racing and America Israel Racing, and their background might surprise you.

Speaking on the phone from North Carolina, America Israel Racing (AIR) co-founder Rich Shirey wasn’t hesitant to say that there’s “not one Jewish person on our team.” Shirey was raised Baptist in a home where, he says, they were always taught to stand behind Israel. Shirey, who has no background in racing, says the idea for America-Israel Racing came out of a desire “to show the world, and Israel, that a majority of Americans do support Israel.”

After being inspired to do something in support of Israel, Shirey got in touch with his friend, AIR co-founder Mark MacCaull, a former NASCAR engineer, to try and make his idea a reality. In Shirey’s mind, there was no better way to raise awareness about Israel than through NASCAR racing, the sport he loves. “Fortunately enough, Jay Robinson of Robinson-Blakeney Racing was coming up out of the Nationwide Series,” NASCAR’s second division, “to the Cup Series, and we went and met with him and it just was a perfect fit,” Shirey said.

“Everybody we have on our team, from the air team to the driver, to the crew chief, to the team that actually owns the racing team … everybody is 100 percent on board with this,” Shirey said. Even driver J.J. Yeley, when told what would be on the hood of his car, was hugely supportive. “When J.J. found out what we were trying to do … he was ecstatic.”

With Robinson-Blakeney and Yeley on their team, Shirey and MacCaull knew there were still many hurdles ahead. “Everything we do, NASCAR has to approve of,” said Shirey. And while the sport’s governing body has been very supportive, there’s still the matter of funding a race car, which is no small feat.

“We’re not rock stars or movie stars or anything like that, we’re just ordinary people,” said Shirey. “We have enough money to run Daytona, and Phoenix, and there’s a good possibility we’ll be in Las Vegas, but we definitely need to get funding.”

While AIR has been collecting donations on its Web site, americaisraelracing.com, the real struggle is “to try and get some corporate sponsors on the car.” But despite having yet to find a big-name sponsor, Shirey remains hopeful. “In America right now, things are tight for everybody.”

More than anything, Shirey wants to get the message out that America and Israel need each other and that, at least in the world of NASCAR, Israel is a true friend to America. “We’re two countries that are a lot alike in everything we do. They’re our closest ally in an area of the world that’s not real friendly to the West. And we need Israel as much as Israel needs us.”

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