Northbrook native and Broadway performer Nathan Salstone, 27, made a name for himself on the local stage. He just wrapped a world premiere of a show that asks big questions about the Holocaust, religion, and human nature.
In the San Diego production of
What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank
, Salstone played a 16-year-old who rejects his Jewish heritage and identifies as a Pastafarian.
"It's a real religion. It's all about social equality and humanity, and it says if you get to wear your yarmulke on your head in your driver's license photo, well, I'm a Pastafarian, so I get to wear my spaghetti strainer on my head in my driver's license photo," Salstone said.
While the show is a comedy, it addresses serious issues through the story of two women who grew up as Orthodox Jews and close friends in New York City. They drift apart, get married, one moves to Israel and becomes Hasidic, and the other heads to Florida and lives a secular life. Twenty years later, they reunite, along with their families, for a visit that becomes more heated as their differences are revealed. Salstone plays the son of the Florida couple.
"It is truly an evening of all of the conversations you can imagine happening from Israel to religion to politics. It is a brilliant political satire comedy written in a way that leaves you with more questions than answers," said Salstone.
In the end, the women recall a game they used to play Who would hide us if we were in a Holocaust today?
"It's a harrowing thought, but something that people have actually had to face, and we've found through our audiences that a lot of different cultures play this game. We've heard that there's the Underground Railroad game," explained Salstone.
At this time, there are no plans to bring What We Talk About… to Chicago, but Salstone is hopeful.
His performance as a teenager who confronts the status quo mirrors his own experience.
"I went on Birthright when I was in college, and I challenged our leaders", he said, remembering he raised questions about what it means to be a modern day Jew. "I was like, 'oh, so we're not just following this old biblical text, we're actually making these stories relevant to today.' That's such a theatrical thing to do. That relates to my life because I tell stories and make them relevant to today."
Salstone began his professional career at age 10, playing an orphan in
at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. He landed lead roles throughout his years at Glenbrook North High School and won the 2012 Illinois High School Musical Theatre Award for Best Actor for his performance of the title role in
The Phantom of the Opera.
He also brought his talents to JCC Z Frank Apachi Day Camp, where he served as song leader.
After graduating from Carnegie Mellon University, Salstone made his 2018 Broadway debut in
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
. He joined the ensemble and served as the understudy for the part of Scorpius Malfoy. He played that part many times, including one memorable night that prompted yet another Jewish question.
"Before the show I went into the lobby and there was this big Christmas tree, and I went to the house manager, and I was like, 'Hey, it's the first night of Chanukah. Where's the menorah?'" he said. It took some pushing and some tweeting, but a menorah finally appeared in the lobby.
Julie Mangurten Weinberg is a Northbrook-based journalist with more than 20 years of experience in broadcast, print, and digital media.