Disabled Actor/Writer Inspires In One-Man Play

BY JOE MARVILLI
Staff Writer

While he was born without his right hand, David Harrell did not allow this to hold him back in his life goals or become the centerpiece of who he is.

David Harrell, an Astoria-based actor and writer, uses the story of his life with a disability to encourage those with similar circumstances.

David Harrell, an Astoria-based actor and writer, uses the story of his life with a disability to encourage those with similar circumstances.

The Astoria-based actor, speaker and advocate’s award-nominated solo play, “A Little Potato and Hard To Peel,” takes a humorous and insightful look at his own life with a disability, chronicling his journey towards awareness that he cannot let his situation define him. He said he hopes the play makes that message clear to others who may be struggling with a disability.

The show was created in its raw form when Harrell was in North Carolina. Initially called “The Quest,” the performances shared his life through comedy and heroics. Once he got to New York though, he examined the show and changed it to match his new views on confidence.

“I think it was more important about not letting circumstances define us. The fact that I was born without a hand doesn’t define all I am,” he said. “It became this idea of finding what would make me normal.”

The title, “A Little Potato and Hard To Peel,” came from a story Harrell’s grandfather told him when he was young. His grandfather said that the baseball team he used to play on was called “Little Potato and Hard To Peel.” Later in his life, after his grandfather had passed away, Harrell learned that the story was a tall tale with a message – do not let circumstances peel away your humanity.

“To tell his grandson this tall tale in a humorous way, it’s my way of celebrating that love he had for me,” Harrell said. “It’s easy to tell the story because in some ways it’s a celebration about it. I certainly had difficulties growing up. But I think because of a lot of support I had, I’m not embarrassed by it.”

Initially, this interest in acting came from an unlikely source in high school. Harrell had a crush on a girl. This girl said he would look cute and be funny onstage, leading him to audition in the hopes of getting a date. The date never happened, but the love of acting stuck. Writing was a more difficult process.

“The writing part of it is still very scary,” he said. “It’s been a process to trust my writing, trust my storytelling process and trust the collaborators I’ve brought in.”

Harrell is also the Disability and Programming Associate for Inclusion in the Arts. He works with casting directors to encourage them to cast disabled actors, particularly if the role calls for a disabled person. His hope is to expand the diversity that has happened in Hollywood over the last 25 years to include disabled people as well.

“We want disability to start being part of that conversation. We still can’t see a person with a disability and think it’s not a plot point,” he said.

“Little Potato and Hard To Peel” will be performed on Oct. 20 at 7 p.m., Oct. 25 at 7 p.m., Oct. 27 at 4 p.m. and Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. “The Boy Who Would Be Captain Hook,” which is a variation geared towards children, will take place on Oct. 19 at 11 a.m. and Nov. 2 at 11 a.m. Both shows will occur at the Cherry Lane Theatre, located at 38 Commerce St.

Both shows will be presented as part of the All For One Theater Festival, a showcase that specializes in displaying one-man or one-woman performances. To buy tickets to the shows, visit www.afofest.org.

“I think it’s a powerful way to exercise the shared connection we have as human beings,” Harrell said. “You are who you are and that’s important.”

Reach Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125, jmarvilli@queenstribune.com, or @Joey788.