· Moises Kaufman Directs Doug Wright at Sundance..
· Kopit, Wellman, Machado, Martin, and More in Louisville...
· Tales of the City to Sing in San Francisco...
Utah in late January may be film mad, but for the fifth year in a row, the Sundance Theatre Program is giving film festival audiences a chance to "combine movie viewing with the excitement of live performance." According to Artistic Director Philip Himberg, the Program's two solo theatre offerings "represent the best visions of independent artists working in the American theatre."
Doug Wright's I Am My Own Wife (Jan. 25) was created last winter at the Sundance Theatre Playwright's Retreat (Ucross, Wyoming), then further developed at the July 2000 Theatre Laboratory (Sundance, Utah). While vacationing in Germany, Wright learned how transvestite Charlotte von Mahisdorf posed as a woman to escape a World War II internment camp and then covertly preserved a Weimar era cabaret. After the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the West German government discovered Charlotte's unique museum and awarded her a medal for "heroic preservation." I Am My Own Wife is directed by Moises Kaufman and performed by Jefferson Mays.
Aviva Jane Carlin's original performance piece, Jodie's Body (Jan. 26), opened in New York in 1999. Directed by Kenneth Elliott, Jodie's Body is set in London three days after the first free South African elections. Carlin plays Jodie, a nude model posing for an art class, who muses about her unconventional beauty, her overweight body, the idiosyncrasies of the sketching artists, and her upbringing in South Africa during Apartheid.
I Am My Own Wife and Jodie's Body will be performed at the Elks Lodge on Park City's Main Street. Both plays, with their startling personal and political dimensions, fit the brief of Robert Redford's Sundance Institute, which is "dedicated to the development of artists of independent vision and the exhibition of their new work." The Institute is celebrating its 20th anniversary. In 1985, Redford launched the Sundance Film Festival, one of the Institute's more visible activities.
Art (Jan. 3-20) has arrived in Salt Lake City at the Pioneer Theatre Company. Director Tom Markus is faithful to Yasmina Reza's script, as is George Maxwell with his understated set. Ian Stuart (Serge), William Whitehead (Marc), and Craig Bockhorn (Yvan) are all equally credible as friends arguing about aesthetics instead of athletics. Reza's witty play, however, seems a little out of place in the West, where men are more likely to bond while hunting rather than discussing art.
Columbus' Act Out Productions hopes to send another play Off-Broadway. Members of the Tribe, Columbus actress-writer Nancy Heiden's drama—about a married rabbi who befriends a young gay man who converts to Judaism—generated interest during a summer run, prompting Artistic Director Frank Barnhart to revive the production (Jan. 11-13) with Jeff Horst and Nick Capurro reprising their lead roles. Barnhart also took One Edward 2, his one-man adaptation of Christopher Marlowe's Edward II, to Off-Broadway.
Reality Theatre and Red Herring Theatre Company are hailing their collaborative success. Since August, the troupes have shared the Short North Playhouse, Reality's 90-seat space in the trendy restaurant/gallery district north of Columbus' Downtown. Reality's season opener (Closer) and Red Herring's fall productions (Death Defying Acts and Dimly Perceived Threats to the System) sold up to 30% more tickets than their 1999-2000 productions. Red Herring will stage Like Totally Weird (Feb. 8-March 3), William Mastrosimone's suspense thriller from the 1998 Humana Festival. Meanwhile, Reality will tackle the U.S. premiere of Sistahs (Jan. 11-27), Maxine Bailey and Sharon Lewis' comedy-drama about five black women who cook up soup with ritual magic.
Similar lessons from black feminist history—also with a five-woman cast—will be explored in Actors Theatre of Louisville's Constant Star (Jan. 4-27), Tazewell Thompson's a cappella spiritual drama about Ida B. Wells, the suffragette and civil-rights pioneer.
Actors Theatre will switch gears to campy musical comedy with Little Shop of Horrors (Feb. 1-March 3), its last mainstage production before the 25th annual Humana Festival of New American Plays (Feb. 27-April 7). Expect full-length premieres from Charles Mee (bobrauschenbergamera, staged by Anne Bogart); Richard Dresser (Wonderful World, directed by Marc Masterson, Actors' new artistic director); Eduardo Machado (When the Sea Drowns in Sand); Mac Wellman (Description Beggared; or the Allegory of WHITENESS); Melanie Marnich (Quake); and Jane Martin (Flaming Guns of the Purple Sage: A "B" Western Horror Flick for the Stage). Arthur Kopit will contribute three 10-minute plays in serial form, under the title Chad Curtiss, Lost Again.
The Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival, gearing up for Macbeth (Jan. 4-Feb. 11), reaped praise and laughter for Giles Davies, Sylvester Little, Jr. and Nick Rose's antics in The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (abridged) (Nov. 16-Dec. 17). Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park will stage Closer (Jan. 6-Feb. 4) and launch a new Monday night monologue series.
Over the years, TheatreWorks has gained a reputation for giving failed Broadway musicals a second chance. Most recently (it closed Dec. 31), the company presented a thoroughly charming staging of Triumph of Love, based on Marivaux's 18th century French comedy, with a book by James Magruder and a Sondheim-ish score by Jeffrey Stock and Susan Birkenhead. As directed by Robert Kelley, the slight fairytale romance offered broad commedia dell'arte characters, but gained a touching poignancy in the intimate Lucie Stern Theatre. The cast was appealing, with special nods to Debra Wiseman as the resourceful princess, and Livia Genise and Steven Patterson, whose rueful duet to a bonsai tree was a showstopper.
San Francisco's Grammy Award-winning male ensemble, Chanticleer, came home after touring worldwide with the traditional A Chancticleer Christmas, playing to full houses. On March 11, the company will perform in New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art. The program will include guest soprano Frederica von Stade singing the new song cycle "Anna Madrigal Remembers"—based on Armistead Maupin's "Tales of the City"—with music composed by Jake Heggie, whose opera, Dead Man Walking, was a highlight of the San Francisco Opera season.
With a cast of well-known names such as Nick Nolte, Sean Penn, Woody Harrelson, Cheech Marin, and James Gammon, the recent Magic Theatre world premiere of Sam Shepard's The Late Henry Moss was sold-out weeks before opening. Press tickets were at a minimum, but reports have it that the real drama was happening backstage. One reported incident involved Marin, whose contract covered conflicts with his shooting schedule for the TV series "Nash Bridges" (filmed in The City). One hour before a matinee in which Marin's understudy was scheduled to perform, Penn (and later Nolte) chose not to go on and the performance was subsequently canceled. During the limited run, it was apparently a rare matinee in which both "stars" appeared.
A. J. Esta
Upstate New York
Despite ongoing competition from the recent "Bush vs. Gore" show, many theatre lovers managed to concentrate on current theatre openings in various upstate playhouses. Shows were well patronized in several areas, with the Albany-based Capital Repertory Theatre drawing full houses to its recent mounting of King of the Moon, a hilarious and provocative new work by author Thomas Dunzick, who wrote last year's hit Over the Tavern.
With Moon, Dunzick returns with more hilarity in the further adventures of the wacky Kazinski family. This time, the family is awaiting the landing of the first astronaut on the moon, an event that coincides with the funeral of the head of Kazinski household. Fast moving and funny, Moon offers a somewhat sentimental, poignant picture of real life. Among the fine cast is Judith K. Hart as Ellen, the matriarch of the family. Hart created the role in the studio arena Pittsbugh Public's premiere production of Moon.
A few miles farther north, in the town of Cambridge, NY, a new theatre company has made its debut at Historic Hubbard Hall under the direction of Kevin McGuire. The company's presentation of Ruth and Augustus Goetz's The Heiress (adapted from Henry James' novel Washington Square) was a recent gem and bodes well for the future of the company.
The Weir, a new play by Irish author Conor McPherson, winner of the 1999 Olivier Award, has found its way to the city of Rochester. It will be playing at the Geva Theatre, the city's host company, from Jan. 4-Feb. 4. Over the span of a mere four years, playwright McPherson has won 12 major awards in Ireland, Spain, and the United States.
The NYS Theater Institute returns to its Troy, NY home to present a pair of dynamic plays about the Holocaust. Number of Stars (Jan. 25-Feb. 5), by Lois Lowry, adapted by Dr. Douglas W. Larche, tells the story of two Danish sisters determined to save the life of their Jewish friend, who is threatened by Nazi "relocation." Incident at Vichy (Feb. 15-18), by Arthur Miller, relates a tale of eight men and a boy seized by Nazi authorities and held in a warehouse.
Both plays will be presented at the Schacht Fine Arts Center in Russell Sage College in Troy. A public symposium will accompany the opening performance of Stars on Jan. 28.
The Jungle Theater in Minneapolis does a generally fine job in finding the contemporary relevance of classic and some not-so-classic theatrical works. Its record with original scripts is not nearly so consistent; the new works it nurtures are often meandering, talky, or too closely related to other, superior models. So it was doubly a pleasure to encounter the Jungle's production of Craig Wright's The Pavilion, a wryly comic and insightful tale of conflicting expectations and the inexorable ravages of passing time. On a stage devoid of decoration, two former high school sweethearts encounter one another at a 20-year reunion. Kari is unhappily married; Peter has never forgiven himself for breaking up with her, and wants to resume their relationship. With wit and charm, and not a little rue, Wright confounds our expectations as the former lovers confront today's realities. Under the skillful direction of Bain Boehlke, Amy McDonald and Patrick Coyle bring depth and humor to the central relationship, while Stephen D'Ambrose has an actor's field day as the narrator and everybody else at the reunion. The work is not perfect; the narration sometimes leans too heavily into "poetic" expression, and the climactic burning of the lakeside pavilion where the reunion takes place may be a tad more symbolism than the play can carry. But The Pavilion, which was originally to have received its world premiere at the Jungle before "artistic differences" led to an earlier production at City Theatre in Pittsburgh, is a script well worth consideration by theatres seeking superior contemporary work.
On a more grandiose scale, St. Paul's Ordway Center for the Performing Arts produced the Broadway version of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown in its intimate McKnight Theatre. I say "grandiose" because the Michael Mayer/Andrew Lippa adaptation of Clark Gesner's original tries to "contemporize" the work by taking a misguided rock'n'roll approach to the charming score. The result is an overblown variation of a small, delightful show. The usually reliable director Michael Brindisi has fallen victim to this inflation, and his production is overplayed, overmiked, and overdesigned, with set designer Nayna Ramey's giant alphabet letters proving more of a distraction than an attraction.
Meanwhile, the Guthrie is bringing back its delightful summer production of Twelfth Night, and has Mercedes Ruehl and Patrick Stewart in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? on the horizon. The Rodgers and Hammerstein Cinderella tour is approaching, and, with the holidays safely over, many of the Twin Cities theatres are preparing new offerings; the potential seems ever hopeful.
When, with its unique art form, theatre and drama reflect societal ills and seek avenues of change through presentational and interactive programs, it can truly serve a higher purpose.
Such is the new musical I Want To Tell You, a project of Horizons Theatre, funded by the Bridge Builders Foundation. Written by Horizons Artistic Director Leslie Jacobson and the ever theatrical/social activist Roy Barber, this 45-minute musical focuses on the vulnerability of gay high school students and teachers. Created in a workshop atmosphere with the youth at the Sexual Minority Assistance League (SMYAL), I Want To Tell You and the post-performance workshops –which include improvisational situations with interaction of playgoers led by Horizon Theatre representatives and volunteers from SMYAL—are designed to generate more understanding and tolerance among previously disparate groups. After April presentations at the Gunston Arts Center, a spring tour of high schools for students and their families has been designed to fit into the school day. The program is also seeking to perform as requested for special events.
Also reflective of social consciousness is the new Woolly Mammoth production, Suzan-Lori Parks'In The Blood, one of last year's Pulitzer Prize finalists. The play, which appeared at the Public Theatre in New York, is a tale of a mother's love and unbelievable commitment to bettering the lives of her homeless, inner city family. Woolly has assembled a stellar cast, led by the Obie Award-winning Gail Grate, familiar to Washington audiences from her appearances at the Arena Stage, Kennedy Center, and the Shakespeare Theatre at the Folger. In addition, the cast also includes Washington favorites Sarah Marshall, Fred Strother, and Michael Jerome Johnson, along with Taunya Martin and Terry Alexander. In The Blood marks the first of three Woolly Mammoth productions in its temporary home in the old AFI Theater in the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. This production runs through Feb. 4.
St. Louis/Kansas City
Jackie Mason, the raucous and brilliant comedian whose five Broadway shows have been great successes, takes his most recent hit, Much Ado About Everything, to the Midwest with a two-week, 11-performance run, Jan. 23-Feb. 2, at the Amphitheatre in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in St. Louis. Mason's arrival marks the first time the hotel has been used for a theatrical production that is not part of another event, like a banquet or fund-raiser. The Amphitheatre seats 200, and the top ticket price is $45.
Meanwhile, the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis continues Shaw's Major Barbara until Feb. 2. A solid production directed by John Going, who has become the Rep's regular in terms of Shaw, and with a dazzling set by James Wolk, it features Katherine Leask, an excellent Shavian performer, who handles the title role well, but is overshadowed by Thomas Carson's outstanding, larger-than-life portrayal of Andrew Undershaft. The Rep Studio does its first locally written play in many years when Carter W. Lewis' comedy, Women Who Steal runs Jan. 19-Feb. 4. Lewis, currently playwright in residence at Washington University, also will direct, with Peggy Cosgrove as "Wife," Karen Radcliffe as "Mistress," and Ed Vaughan as the several men in their lives.
There's offstage news for both the St. Louis Black Repertory Company and the New Line Theatre. The former has received an equity investment of $128,000 from the Working Capital Fund, a collaborative effort of the Ford Foundation and the Nathan Cummings Foundation. The latter has secured a theatre space for the spring, and will share the downtown Art Loft Theatre with the HotHouse Theatre Company. The 2001 season opens in March with Cabaret, and continues in June with Anyone Can Whistle. Summer plans are to remount the production of Hair that was so successful last year.
In Kansas City, the Missouri Rep performs Machinal, Jan. 26-Feb. 18, with new associate artistic director Risa Brainin directing Sophie Treadwell's 1928 drama of murder and exploitation. The play starred Clark Gable and Zita Johann in its Broadway run.
With temperatures below normal and snowfall above normal, theatregoing Milwaukeeans were looking for diversions the first week of the new year, and they had plenty. In addition to a visit by the disappointing national touring company of Cabaret, three worthwhile productions were opened by local troupes. Renaissance Theaterworks is proving that Athol Fugard's The Captain's Tiger is a work of subtle beauty and quiet drama if it receives sensitive direction and superb acting. Jonathan Smoots contributed the direction, and James Ridge uses his extensive experience with Shakespeare and his extraordinary speech and movement skills to keep the audience interested during long pieces of narration. Ridge plays the author/Fugard figure, writing a first novel about his mother. Patrick Sims projects strength while expressing the taciturn Donkeyman's inner feelings by tone of voice and body language. Betsy Skowbo, in her first large professional role, contributes intensity, presence, and charm as the author's young mother. Special mention should be made of Marsha Kuligowski's finely detailed costumes and Andrew Meyers' evocative lighting. The Captain's Tiger continues through Jan. 21.
Doug Mancheski's eccentric energy drives the first act of the Chamber Theatre production of Richard Greenberg's Three Days of Rain, which is running through Jan. 28. Playing the unsettled son of famous architect Ned Janeway, Mancheski is a fascinating bundle of anger, needs, neuroses, and comic glibness without taking the character over the top. In Act II, he backs off the throttle to portray the elder Janeway with a sweet vulnerability.
A terrific performance by Don Devona drives the Boulevard Ensemble's satisfying production of I Never Sang for My Father. Robert Anderson's 1968 drama about an adult son attempting to please and love a difficult, self-absorbed father, is an evergreen because of its accurate reflection of conversations and conflicts large and small within families. Devona doesn't make a single false move, portraying the father with an intensity and emotional veracity that is compelling. The production continues through Jan. 23.
James DePaul has resigned as director of the Professional Theatre Training Program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. DePaul, who had held the position for four years, retains a tenured professorial rank and will continue to teach theatre at the school. "The resignation follows a vote of no confidence taken by members of the theatre faculty and staff of the Department of Theatre and Dance," reported Robert Greenstreet, interim dean of the UWM School of Fine Arts. The program has seen dropping enrollment and dwindling audiences for its productions.
For several Oregon theatres, 2001 is a stage odyssey continuing and expanding on work begun in 2000 and the late 1990s.
Representatives of Artists Repertory Theatre of Portland toured cities in Vietnam during November and December, working with the Central Dramatic Company of Vietnam to present a bilingual production of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and a Vietnamese language production of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie. Allen Nause, artistic director of ART, and Mr. Doan Hoang Giang, of Vietnam, co-directed the shows. The tour began in Hanoi on Nov. 15 and ended there Dec. 29.
Nause termed the tour a great success, noting that in the production of Dream, English-speaking and Vietnamese-speaking audiences laughed at the same comedic moments, indicating the bridge across cultural and linguistic differences.
Concerning the Williams play, Nause says that, until now, no American playwright other than Arthur Miller has had work produced in Vietnam. He says he chose The Glass Menagerie because of its theme of conflict between the older and younger generation, present in modern Vietnamese society.
According to Nause, this was the second phase of a three-part exchange that began with the Central Dramatic Company's tour of the Pacific Northwest in 1998. It is intended to continue in 2001, with the Vietnamese theatre and ART presenting the two productions at sites in the U.S.
ART will present the West Coast premiere of John Logan's Never the Sinner in Portland, Jan. 14-Feb. 25. In 1924, Chicago teenagers Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb set out to commit the perfect crime. With no apparent motive, the two murdered 14-year-old Bobby Franks. Legendary attorney Clarence Darrow saved the pair from hanging.
Downstate, in Ashland, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival held its first company call of 2001 on Jan. 3. It will open its February through October season of 11 plays Feb. 16 with Shakespeare's The Tempest. Also in the opening round of four are Enter the Guardsman, a musical (based on the classic Molnar comedy) by Scott Wentworth, Marion Adler, and Craig Bohmler; Life Is a Dream by Pedro Calderon de la Barca; and The Trip to Bountiful by Horton Foote.
Theatre League, a regional troupe that stages its Phoenix shows at the Orpheum Theatre, grabbed headlines earlier this season with its "virtual pit orchestra." Artistic Director Mark Edelman announced that they have discontinued the practice after their first two offerings. While the use of electronic music is becoming popular in many local and regional theatres, the technology still has a few bugs. Theatre League's decision to use the VPO to augment live musicians during its production of Evita lead to a boycott of the show by Valley musicians.
Edelman was quick to point out that every theatre production uses technology. "We've merely supplemented our musicians with the latest in musical enhancement," he said. "If there's a problem, it's not that we chose this technology, but that we were among the first to use it, before it was perfected." Edelman contended that it was hardly a cost-cutting measure. "It was more expensive to use a virtual orchestra," he insisted. "It cost me five grand a week." When Edelman was pressured into replacing Evita's virtual orchestra with live musicians, he claims he paid less for flesh-and-blood performers. The orchestra for the upcoming production of Leader of the Pack will not use VPO technology.
The Herberger Theater Center and Center Dance Ensemble have joined forces to recognize outstanding young (ages 14-22) performing artists in three areas: Acting, Classical Voice, and Modern Dance. Three distinguished panels of judges will adjudicate these young performers from Jan. 16-18. At the conclusion of the adjudication process, four artists will be selected from each discipline to participate in the Young Artists' Competition at the Herberger Theater Center on Sat., Jan. 20, at 7 pm. A cross-disciplinary panel of judges will preside. They will select one singer, one actor, and one dancer as the competition's winners.
This year, the Young Artists' Competition has raised their award offerings. The winner in each category will receive $1,000 in scholarship monies and an internship with a local professional arts organization. Cash prizes will also be awarded to the finalists in each category.
Mark S. P. Turvin