Great Neck North High School alumnus Daniel Bar-Lavi wasn’t always sure he had the potential to pursue a career in theater, but as the Northwestern theatre major concludes his third directing experience, he said he’s surprised himself.
Bar-Lavi, who graduated from Great Neck North in 2014, has spent his summer directing the Levels Next Stage production of “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead,” which will be performed on Aug. 10 and 11 at 8 p.m. at the Gold Coast Arts Center. Admission to the show is free.
“I have a real hunger to be better and have more success,” said Bar-Lavi, who began his acting career with two lines in a middle school performance of “The Wizard of Oz.” “I’m ambitious, and I know that I’ve already traveled very far on my journey in theatre, and I can take comfort in that when I need to.”
Bar-Lavi said he put his cast together by sending messages to old friends from high school to gauge interest and availability. The cast includes both current students and graduates of Great Neck North and South high schools.
“I wanted to take a different approach to casting,” he said. “Instead of auditioning them, I invited people to be in the cast.”
He said he actually planned on directing a different show, but had a sudden change of plans a week into rehearsals in early July when Levels notified him that he did not receive the rights to the show.
Despite the news, he said, the cast quickly moved forward after everyone read through some different plays and unanimously decided on “Dog Sees God.”
“I just feel like the cast got a real sense of ownership over what we were doing,” Bar-Lavi said. “People really want to be at rehearsal, and that’s always fun to have in a room. Everyone just really loves the play and loves each other.”
The play, which ended its Off-Broadway run nine years ago, follows the story of CB, an upperclassman high school student, after his dog dies.
Bar-Lavi said CB is a “bit of a jock,” and re-evaluates his identity and how he treats people following the dog’s death.
Thematically, Bar-Lavi said, the show is about identity, how we treat others, and what happens when we die.
“The thing I love about the show is that it’s very moving and very deep and dramatic, but that’s all running concurrently to all these really funny, ridiculous characters,” he said. “You’re just laughing at how horrible some of these people can be, but the show takes it a step further and really shows the impact of what they do — and not in a funny way. You’re forced to reflect and think, ‘What if I acted in this way?’”
He said the show is not appropriate for young children, but appeals to both teenage and adult audiences.
Bar-Lavi first came across “Dog Sees God” when his high school English teacher, Jeffrey Gilden, gave it to him during his senior year while he was searching for monologues for college auditions.
At the time, Bar-Lavi was also in the midst of his first directing experience, where he chose to direct “The Mustache,” one of three shows that made up the annual student-directed thespian performance at Great Neck North High School.
While he said he initially wished he had come across “Dog Sees God” while choosing a show to direct, he now thinks it’s better that he’s directing it following high school.
“Having distance from being in a high school allowed me to be a lot more objective about the characters and try not to make the high school in the show my high school,” he said. “That would’ve been a mistake. The show is not set in Great Neck; with the way the characters talk and the way there are, it wouldn’t have been a service to the show.”
Bar-Lavi said that he entered Northwestern last fall thinking he wanted to be an actor, but he is now leaning toward a career in directing and writing after taking a course in playwriting.
“[The course] really forced me to take a different approach to theater from more of a big picture rather than just as an actor in the show,” he said. “I felt so much more satisfied with having my realm be the entire show rather than just one character. I don’t want to say that directing is better or more satisfying than acting, but having that approach to theatre is something I’ve really enjoyed.”
As for directing again next summer?
“I’ll be turning 20 that summer, and that’s when I think it’s time to let the younger generation have those opportunities,” Bar-Lavi said.