“It’s Hollywood in the shtetl.” That’s how playwright Nicholas Wright summed up his new play, “Travelling Light,” now at London’s National Theatre. He pretty much hit the nail on the head with this pithy description as he spoke to the audience in a talkback following the production’s worldwide simulcast on February 9.
Imagine “Fiddler on the Roof,” only with a young man let loose in the village with his early model motion picture camera. Also imagine a pushy producer and a young ingénue in the movie’s leading lady role. Finally, imagine that the young man with the camera runs away to America to become a Samuel Goldwyn or Jack Warner. Motl Mendl of the shtetl morphs into Maurice Montgomery of the studio.
Wright jokingly called himself “an assimilated Gentile” as he sat on stage with the play’s Jewish director Nicholas Hytner and Jewish film critic Jason Solomons. For Wright, the play’s through-line is Motl’s inability to ever fully become Maurice. “He carried the shtetl with him always,” Wright explained.