When he first saw The Indian Wants the Bronx performed in Manhattan, he was so moved he decided that if he ever had the chance he would direct the piece.
Little did he know that only seven years later, not only would he have the chance to direct the Obie-Award winning play by Israel Horovitz - he would also perform in it as the character Murph.
"Right after Sept. 11th, I saw The Indian Wants the Bronx," said Schneider, who has called Hudson County home since 1997. "I was so impressed that I actually still have the program. I thought, if I had the chance to do it someday I would."
The role of Murph was first brought to life by the then unknown Al Pacino in 1968. It was a role that helped propel him on the road to stardom.
Yet that isn't what initially drew Schneider to the play. He was interested in the writing by playwright Horovitz. "It's just brutally honest," he said. "He writes about the most horrific things. He's a risk taker I would say."
Schneider will direct Indian and another lesser known Horovitz one-act titled Rats. The show, which is called From Harlem to the Bronx: Two Plays by Israel Horovitz, runs this weekend at Manhattan Theatre Source. ProACTive Artists and Shanthi Pothacamury are producing the show.
After graduating Penn State University, he moved to Jersey City in 1997. Since then, he has moved all over the county, including Weehawken and now Union City.
He studied at several acting studios in Manhattan, including the William Esper Studio and HB Studios. In addition to acting, Schneider also writes and recently formed the company ProACTive Artists in 2007. He started the company to create opportunities for artists like himself and to build an environment where one can truthfully express themselves.
Although this is the first play that Schneider is directing and producing, it is the second time he has worked on material from Horovitz.
According to Schneider, he performed in Line by Horovitz at the 13th Street Repertory Company Theater in the spring of 2005.
Hundreds of actors have performed in Line since it opened in 1974 and it is the longest-running off-Broadway play. Schneider called it a "right of passage" for actors coming to New York.
With his experience acting, it's no surprise that Schneider favors a realistic approach to directing. He said that it was important to find actors who connected with the material.
He said the most important thing was for the actors to "try to live out the circumstances, live out their part."
"Even though in [Rats] they are playing rats it is still about very human qualities of greed and wanting more," said Schneider.
Learning to listen
Although working with the two males (actors Roy DeVito and Delanie Shawn Murray) playing rats had its own difficulties, Schneider said that the second one-act Indian was harder to direct.
"I had more fun directing [Rats]. It was easier to direct," he said.
Rats features the sometimes funny, sometimes sad interplay between DeVito and Murray, who both have worked hard to create interesting behavior.
One of the problems he faced in the second one-act was having to use a stand-in for his own role of Murph in Indian so he could see the action unfold during rehearsals.
In Indian, two street punks encounter an East Indian man waiting at a bus stop in New York City. The pair first make fun of the foreigner, until it eventually escalates to senseless violence.
In the play, street hardened Murph (played by Schneider) and his troubled, yet weak friend Joey (played by Josh Farhadi) turn increasingly vicious towards the Indian man Gupta (played brilliantly by Himad Beg), who doesn't speak English. All three of the actors are convincing in the performance, so much so that one almost wants to look away when it becomes clear that it is going to turn out badly.
"It's all about communication," said Schneider. "So I had to have [Beg] listen, but listen like he didn't understand."
He said that violence in society and lack of communication is almost a timeless theme, both of which are issues that society still struggles with today. He said he hopes that the audience thinks about those issues after seeing the production.
Last week at the opening night performance, the actors in both one-acts portrayed all too human failings of ignorance, self-preservation, and miscommunication.
While audiences might have a difficult time stomaching some of the more tragic themes that Horovitz discusses - like racism in society and violence, most will be able to appreciate the actors' uncanny ability to portray human foibles truthfully.
In both plays, the actors transformed themselves into characters that are believable - even if they are to be pitied - like the malicious character of Murph. While certain character actions (like the sudden eruption of violent behavior) aren't entirely clear due to the writing - all of the actors connect with the material and each other.
Yet there are moments in both productions when there are glimmers of hope.
In Rats, Jebbie the rat (played by DeVito) is willing to sacrifice himself in order to protect a human baby (played by Monisha Shiva). And in Indian, characters Gupta and Joey share some time when they break down their differences in race and language and are able to communicate.
It's a shame that playwright Horovitz couldn't see a way to end either play without violence. In both short plays, nothing is resolved peacefully - only destroyed. But both one-acts will certainly make audiences think.
More to come
The show, From Harlem to the Bronx: Two Plays by Israel Horovitz, runs this weekend at Manhattan Theatre Source, 177 McDougal Street in Manhattan. On Wednesday (tonight) and Thursday, March 27 the show is at 8 p.m. On Friday, March 28 and Saturday, March 29 there are two shows at 7 and 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 and are available from Smarttix at: (212) 868-4444.
In addition to this weekend's performance, Schneider hopes to bring the plays to another theater - perhaps even to Hoboken.
Yet that's not all for Schneider, who plans to continue building the foundation of his company ProACTive Artists. Through his company, he hopes to continue to encourage actors to communicate truthfully and to allow them to grow.
"From Harlem to the Bronx: Two Plays by Israel Horovitz" runs this weekend at Manhattan Theatre Source. For information about the show, call (212) 868-4444. For more information about the company, visit: www.ProArtists.com.