"It's a blessing to be able to work in this business. I don't want to look a gift horse in the mouth," says busy actor David Proval.
Best known for playing lunatic would-be mob boss Richie Aprile on "The Sopranos," Proval's "ethnic" look has led the Jewish actor to numerous Italian -- often mobster -- roles, from his film breakthrough in "Mean Streets" (1973) as Robert DeNiro's friend Tony, to his recurring guest appearances as Signore in "Everybody Loves Raymond."
"The neighborhood I grew up in was predominantly Italian and Jewish, so there is within my heritage some Italian influence," he says of his East New York, Brooklyn, upbringing, where he attended Yeshiva Toras Chaim.
But the self-described yeshiva bocher rarely got to play what he knows best, until recently. Taping an 1999 episode of "The West Wing" in which he played Rabbi Glassman was, according to Proval, "a very funny experience. I had just got off 'The Sopranos' playing a mobster, and two days later I'm in a synagogue on Wilshire Boulevard."
It was his Jewish heritage that got him involved with his latest project, Richard Krevolin's play "Seltzer-Man." Introduced by a theater producer in 1994, "Richard and I have been working on this for seven years," the actor says. While Krevolin worked on the script, Proval contributed his own memories, especially of his relationship with his mother, and of one of his yeshiva teachers.
"Seltzer-Man," which debuts at Hollywood's Tiffany Theatre on Sept. 15, tells the sad, but funny, tale of hard-drinking, raging poet Seymour Cohen, who daylights as a seltzer delivery man on the Lower East Side, and his occasional alter ego Yonkl Schwartz. He is, according to Proval, "a New York Jew on fire, burning with the accumulated rage of three thousand years of suffering."
"It's a gem," Proval says, "This is the most personal role I've ever played."