Is it really Stella’s Last J-Date?

Meet the cast of Stella’s Last J-Date

The Whitefire Theatre is proud to present the world premiere of Andy Rooster Bloch’s STELLA’S LAST J-DATE, directed by Bryan Rasmussen and produced by Scott Disharoon, a brash, romantic comedy about a high stakes blind date.

When STELLA, a chatty, lovable dog trainer with intense baggage and ISAAC, an affable, alcoholic school teacher with his own skeletons meet for a blind date at a local bar, the date gets complicated when DON, a bully in a fedora, adds to the tension. The play, at its core, is a deeply emotional point of view from two, lost New York singles and what they’re willing to endure to break the chains of loneliness.

Stella (Amy Smallman-Winston), a chatty, lovable dog trainer is no stranger to the world of J-Date, a label she longs to shed. Even with her intense baggage (mostly revolving around her crazy Jewish family as well as a bombshell confession), she has a real shot tonight with Isaac (Barry Livingston), an affable, jazz-loving, alcoholic school teacher with his own skeletons in tow (i.e., a key fact he happened to leave off his dating profile). Adding to the tension is a third character, Don (Elvis Nolasco), a bully in a fedora, a “Force” — out once again to destroy Stella’s last chance at sanity, love, and happiness. Isaac will have to muster up an inner strength to fight for Stella.

The play features the talents of Groundlings alumnus Amy Smallman-Winston, Barry Livingston (“My Three Sons”, “Argo”), and Elvis Nolasco (“American Crime”).

Amy Smallman-Winston

Stella’s Last J-Date at Whitefire Theatre via

How did you first get involved with acting?

When I was 13, I had to have scoliosis surgery on my back and then I had to wear a back brace my freshman year of high school. You can imagine how terrible that was. I, fortunately, had a fantastic theatre teacher in my hometown in Indiana. Getting involved with school plays was an incredible place of respite. I found “my people”.

When did you know that you wanted to make acting a career?

I knew there was nothing else that would fulfill me the way acting does. I love being surrounded by creative, passionate people. I moved to NYC and attended The American Academy of Dramatic Arts right after high school.

What was it like being part of the Groundlings and performing with them?

The Groundlings was a fantastic place where I honed my comedic chops. More importantly, it was where I met my husband, Matt Winston, and some of my best friends. I also had the pleasure of teaching there, which was a very rewarding experience. I don’t think you can really teach a person to be funny, you either have it or you don’t, but you can guide those that have the comedy gene to shine brighter.

What brings you back to theatre?

I knew I wanted to be a stay at home Mom for my children. Luckily, I have been able to do that. Now that my youngest is in 5th grade, they need me a little less, so I wanted to get back to my first love, acting.

What in particular drew you this new play STELLA’S LAST J-DATE?

The character of Stella is a whirling dervish of energy and emotions. Andy’s writing is so funny, and at the same time very moving. I couldn’t resist. Plus, working with Bryan as a director, I knew even though I was diving back into the deep end after being on land for a while, he would keep me from drowning.

What is it about your character or the story that you most enjoy or enjoy exploring?

Stella has no emotional filter. One of my favorite lines is, “I have ADHD and low self-esteem, which means I put myself down, but then quickly forget why.” I love exploring her constant blurting out and immediate regret. It’s a fun roller coaster.

How do you keep up your craft?

I am blessed to be a longtime member of The Actor’s Gym founded by Bobby Moresco. It is a supportive environment filled with terrific actors and writers. I am always inspired by the work that goes on there.

Is there anything else you wish we had asked about you or the play?

I love working with my fellow actors Barry and Elvis. They are extremely talented and they force me to raise my game. We all bring something different to the table, and together I think it will make a delicious meal.

Barry Livingston

Stella’s Last J-Date at Whitefire Theatre via

How did you first get involved with acting?

My brother, Stan, started to work as a child actor before I did. My mother would take me along to his auditions. One was for a film, “Rally Round The Flag Boys!”, with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. At the audition, the producers spotted me sitting in the outer office waiting for my brother to finish his job interview. The next thing I knew, both Stan and I were cast as the children of Paul and Joanne in the film; a career was born!

When did you know that you wanted to make acting a career?

I knew early that I wanted to act, especially after impressing the neighbor kids with my very good imitation of the creepy character actor, Peter Lorre. After my series ended, I wanted to delve more into the craft of acting and soon went to live in New York to do stage work. This was on the advice of Roddy McDowell, a great child actor who transitioned into a very successful adult career.

Having started your acting career when you were a child, did you experience difficulty continuing your career as an adult – – as you aged out of your teen years?

After “My Three Sons” ended, I was fortunate to continue to get work in Hollywood, starring in another series, “Sons and Daughter” and doing a slew of TV guest spots and TV movies. Most of these roles were quite different that the character I played in the series. This gave me the confidence that I could, in fact, pursue a lifelong career as an actor.

Along the way, was it difficult to not get type-cast in roles similar to your character “Ernie” from “My Three Sons”? If so, how did you breakthrough being pigeonholed into similar roles?

Since my career has spanned many decades I’ve encountered more than one period of typecasting, going from nerdy child actor, to troubled teen, to young adult, to young urban professional and, more recently, to judges, lawyers and doctors. Whenever the work in TV and films slowed, I kept active doing theater around the country in regional theater and dinner theaters. I love it all, no matter where I get the opportunity to act.

What was your biggest acting break or opportunity as an adult – work that you are most proud of?

There are a number of lucky career breaks that have kept my career rolling along: “The Social Network”, “Argo”, “Big Love”, “Mad Men”, “Jersey Boys” (the film). I am also most grateful that my autobiography, “The Importance of Being Ernie”, was published by Citadel Press in 2010.

What brings you back to theatre?

Performing in theater is just fun on every level, getting to dig deep into characters, watching them grow and evolve, the camaraderie of the players, the interaction with a live audience. It’s not hard to be lured back to the stage

What in particular drew you this new play STELLA’S LAST J-DATE?

Stella’s Last J-Date came to me through the normal channels: Casting director, Ricki Maslar, suggested me to Bryan Rasmussen, the play’s director. I read the play was moved by the subject matter, two lonely souls trying to make a love connection. I liked that it was as painful as it was funny, too. A meeting ensued and the role was offered.

What is it about your character or the story that you most enjoy or enjoy exploring?

My character, Issac Tarsky, has saddled himself with a lot of life’s crap that he must come to grip with if he’s ever to be happy. It resonated with me, pure and simple. Fun to play.

How do you keep up your craft?

Work, work, work is the best way to keep up with your craft….and having a great life partner to read lines with helps too!

Elvis Nolasco

Stella’s Last J-Date at Whitefire Theatre via

How did you first get involved with acting?

I’ve always been drawn to the entertainment world. In my early teenage years, it was all about dancing. When I started high school I was introduced to theatre, that’s where I caught the bug, thanks to a man name Robert Stonebridge (H.S. Drama Teacher) who believed in me and challenged me.

How long have you been a working actor?

Throughout the early 90s I had many successes with non-union and then union work in theatre, film and TV. Since 2006, I’ve have work on a steady basis, and especially since moving To L.A. In 2009. I’m truly grateful for the acting work. I count my blessings on a daily basis.

What was your biggest acting break or opportunity – work that you are most proud of?

Throughout the years as an artist/actor I’ve learned to appreciate every opportunity that has come my way. Having been faced with some challenges, I’ve grown and learned something creatively and personally from each experience. The work I’m most proud of is the musical Celia about the life and times of Celia Cruz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao based on the Pulitzer Prize-Winning book by author Junot Diaz, and both seasons of ABC’s “American Crime”.

You played a role in FIREHOUSE at the Whitefire Theatre (also directed by Bryan Rasmussen) which was popular and extended for months. Was FIREHOUSE your first show at the Whitefire? What was it about FIREHOUSE do you think resonated most with patrons?

Firehouse by Pedro Antonio Garcia was my first play at the Whitefire. The character I played was “Pito” and yes…the play received rave reviews, and “Pito” an audience favorite. I think the story about family, hope, truth and relevant social issues is what resonated with the audience, striking the core in people’s hearts. I would love to see that play on its feet again – – it moves people.

What brings you back to theatre?

I began this journey in the theatre. Every opportunity I have to be on stage with a good script/story/characters/cast – – I’ll jump to it. And there is nothing like that instant actor/audience connection…and the gratification it brings.

What in particular drew you to this new play STELLA’S LAST J-DATE?

The writing, the character of “Don”, and the style of writing drew me to the play. I felt that I would be challenged as an artist and be able to work on a piece I will have fun doing”.

What is it about your character or the story that you most enjoy or enjoy exploring?

“Don” is a mystery. He’s neither good nor bad. We all have a “Don” inside of us. The character is both mysterious and very real.

How did your casting in the newish limited critically acclaimed ABC series AMERICAN CRIME come about?

What brought me to “American Crime” was a relationship that began with writer/director John Ridley In 2011, when we worked on a pilot for HBO directed by Spike Lee. John called me in to audition for “American Crime” and the rest is history.

Stella’s Last J-Date at Whitefire Theatre via

WHAT: STELLA’S LAST J-DATE World Premiere Dark Comedy Runs: Extends/Reopens July 14-28!

PLAYS: Thursdays at 8PM

WHERE: The Whitefire Theatre
13500 Ventura Blvd. (at Sunnyslope)
Sherman Oaks 91423

TICKETS: $25 or 818-990-2324

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