Serving Larchmont Village, Hancock Park, and the Greater Wilshire neighborhoods of Los Angeles since 2011.

Behind the Scenes at the Festival of Jewish Writers

Jewish Short Play Series

The Festival of Jewish Playwrights opens tonight in Hollywood with three different evenings of short plays, by Ethan Coen, Shel Silverstein, and Wendy Wasserstein. We interviewed Sarah Natochenny, who appears in both the Coen and Silverstein evenings, about how it came to be and her past life as the voice of Ash Ketchum of Pokémon fame.

Sarah, how did you become familiar with this series? What drew you to being a part of it?

Hi! I met Harry and Elliot White at the 24 Hour Plays festival months ago, which I’m performing in on March 18. [Ed. Note: Click here for tickets.] We had a little tiff over a cup of coffee and became fast friends. Their theater company, Foster Cat Productions, was enjoying a sold-out run of Ethan Coen plays next door at the Hudson Guild.

After seeing the show, we had a larger conversation about their goals in showcasing lesser-known works from great writers. I agreed this was a good idea. They brought up doing Shel Silverstein. I had no idea he wrote plays. We met up to read them together and I’m so grateful they cast me.

We also read Ethan Coen, and I fell in love with “Talking Cure.” Larry, the “patient,” reminds me of my father. After working through it, we all agreed that Larry could very well be Laurie. This is an intimate theater, which is a fantastic place to take that chance.

Now that you’re so close to the premiere, what can you say about the works of Silverstein and Coen themselves? What are they like to perform?

Silverstein is great fun because we’re constantly toeing the line between realism and absurdity. Every word of what he wrote is grounded in the true nature of human beings. Almost nothing is there purely for shock value or laughs. His work is very dark and often very funny. Upon first glance at “One Tennis Shoe” (the show opener), I instantly recognized my late grandma in Sylvia. It’s a 1:1 comparison. In “The Lifeboat is Sinking,” I play someone I grew up with who was very sadistic toward one boyfriend in particular. And in “Buy One Get One Free,” well, I don’t actually know any sex workers, but my first instinct was Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny, so I started there and found myself and one of my best friends in Merrilee.

Coen is completely modern and natural; the words fall right out. There are many ways to approach Larry (Laurie, for our production), and while I have a solid character inspiration, the discovery process of her emotional journey throughout the four acts of “Talking Cure” has been very interesting. In “Debate,” I play myself.

What has the production process been like? Somehow I picture everyone cracking up in rehearsals. Has it been different from other acting experiences you’ve had?

I approach new material organically and rely heavily on instinct. Harry and Elliot are very well read and have had a lot of experience learning and working under veteran directors so we’ve had many wonderful conversations as we refined the characters. Getting it all on its feet was definitely very funny. Organically finding nuance had us cracking up. Speeding up certain scenes proved to work to make it all funnier and raise the stakes. Every team and every piece of material is different.

Do you have a favorite moment from the series?

I don’t want to spoil anything. “One Tennis Shoe” and “Talking Cure” delve into semantics and I’m a sucker for that. In “Buy One Get One Free,” I found an unlikely physicality for the moment she says “some frigid unrigidity” and that gets a laugh every time in rehearsal. In “Lifeboat is Sinking,” telling my husband why I had to put him through that horror is just so fantastically sadistic. And in “Debate,” my last little run in the first scene has me on the verge of losing my temper. That run is especially well-written and fun to spit out at him.

I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you about your role as Ash Ketchum, my son’s early-2000s idol, who inspired him to try and catch ’em all! How would you describe that role in the context of your career? And do you have your own Pokémon collection?

Aw! Hi bud!

Even though I have over 100 credits, Pokémon has, at this point, defined my career. My first episodes got me so much hate that I pretty much stopped pursuing acting outside of what was offered me, which I regret, but therapy and self-care, boundary setting, etc. have been very helpful.

Publications started to put a spotlight on me several years ago and then I didn’t see a choice but to lean into it. It’s still so close in the rearview mirror, so I don’t know how hard it will be to have audiences and industry see me outside of that. Between the pandemic and the strikes, I’m only now starting to test the waters. I kick myself for missing a golden age of film and TV production, but I lived life and worked as a film editor in narrative and documentary film. I think that’s made me a far more interesting actor and a more confident person in general.

At the end of the day, I’m going to do what I want to do, and encourage audiences to come along for the ride. Personally, I think it’s just lazy to say “Oh, that’s a voice actor” or worse, “That’s that one character,” and ignore work in other media. Actors get lucky and fall into certain jobs, that’s not our limit. That’s our start. You wouldn’t look at Apple and say “Oh, they’re just desktop computers.” They started there. Now we have iPhones and those big goggle things. Same idea.

Yes, I have a Pokémon collection. It’s very modest.

The Festival of Jewish Playwrights runs at 905 Cole (905 Cole Ave in Hollywood) February 29 through April 7 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm and Sundays at 7:00pm (special 1:00pm matinee on March 10 only). In addition, there are two Thursday performances, Feb. 29 and April 4 at 8:00pm. Each show performs on a different night. Please check the schedule for each. Tickets are $30 and can be purchased here. Purchase tickets to all three shows and you’ll receive a complimentary glass of wine at each!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen has lived in the Brookside neighborhood since 1993. She works as a freelance writer, editor and consultant. She's also a playwright affiliated with Theatre West.

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


Latest Articles

.printfriendly { padding: 0 0 60px 50px; }