It’s science by day and theater by night for Keith Firstenberg.
Keith Firstenberg is a self-professed nerdy science guy. He’s got a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in glass engineering science with minors in chemistry and physics from Alfred University. He’s spent his career as an engineer, including the past 10 years as a research engineer on ignition products for Tenneco, formerly Federal-Mogul. But, by night, Firstenberg’s one really funny guy in Suite Surrender, which runs Sept. 23-Oct. 8 at Farmington Players.
“I am very left-brained — a science geek, for sure,” says Firstenberg, who plays the hotel general manager in the comedy Suite Surrender. “The theater part of me keeps me balanced on my right side. I really enjoy acting and singing. I definitely recognize the dichotomy.”
It was Cantor Don Croll at Temple Beth Torah in Rockland County, N.Y., where Firstenberg grew up, who recognized Firstenberg’s theatrical talents early on. Croll recruited Firstenberg for the junior choir and the temple variety shows.
“The cantor encouraged my acting bug,” says Firstenberg, whose father worked backstage on the construction crew. “My family’s Friday night routine was lighting the candles, doing the Kiddush and HaMotzi, and then going to services. I enjoyed participating and hearing the music from the bimah. I’d say that my upbringing in Judaism is partly responsible for my love of performing.”
Firstenberg continued to attend Shabbat services with his family until high school performances of the school plays and musicals were also held on Friday nights.
Fast forward to Suite Surrender, slated to open on Sept. 23 for three weekends. Prior to the pandemic, Firstenberg, his wife and their daughter, would always go home to New York to spend the Jewish holidays with his parents. Now, after two years, plans were well underway to spend Rosh Hashanah with his East Coast family when Firstenberg heard about Suite Surrender auditions.
“Director Tony Targan [who is also Jewish] jokingly urged that I had to ‘sacrifice’ my travel plans to be in the show,” says Firstenberg, who, along with being a frequent actor at Farmington Players, is also their sound chair.
“Keith is a versatile actor and is a great fit for the role of Bernard Dunlap, the uptight hotel general manager. Dunlap tries to maintain control while experiencing fits of anxiety and panic, and Keith strikes that balance perfectly,” says Targan, who also directed Firstenberg in Spamalot and Leading Ladies.
Targan promises audiences will enjoy Suite Surrender because it is a screwball comedy that taps into the nostalgia of the WWII era.
“It is a classic farce with high stakes, quirky characters and even an adorable dog,” says Targan, a Bloomfield Hills resident.
Firstenberg’s engineering jobs have taken him to Minnesota, Traverse City and, now, Plymouth where he has worked since 2012. In each city, Firstenberg found a community theater to join. It was at the Traverse City Opera House, at a ballroom dance social, where Firstenberg would meet his future wife, Jayne. They were married in 2010 at the Opera House and, six months later, they were featured together in Fiddler on the Roof at the Old Town Playhouse in Traverse City. Keith played Motel the tailor, and Jayne played Tevye’s daughter, Tzeitel.
“It was wonderful. We got married on stage every night,” says Firstenberg, who was also in Dracula and Assassins with Jayne at Farmington Players.
These days, the couple alternates performing in shows while their daughter, Amelia, is still young. Firstenberg says he’s having a blast in Suite Surrender.
“I absolutely love farce,” he adds, comparing the antics to Lend Me a Tenor, Noises Off and Rumors. “It checks all the boxes of comedy — from doors slamming to mistaken consequences. It’s a very physical show, there’s a lot of frantic running around. People will love it.”
Suite Surrender, proudly sponsored by Weinstein Jewelers, will be performed without an intermission. Run time is approximately 90 minutes. Performances are Sept. 23-25, Sept. 30-Oct. 2 and Thurs. Oct. 6-Oct. 8. Reserved tickets, $20-$22, are available at www.farmingtonplayers.org, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (248)553 – 2955. The Farmington Players Barn Theater is located at 32332 W. 12 Mile Road, Farmington Hills Michigan 48334. It’s the big white barn on the north side of 12 mile between Orchard Lake and Farmington Rd.