Neal Huff, whose recent roles have ranged from the last Broadway revival of A Lion in Winter to Visiting Mr. Green at the Berkshire Theatre Festival, has been tapped for the co-starring role in Edward Albee's Occupant, due Feb. 5-April 7 at Off-Broadway's Signature Theatre Company.
Anthony Page, whose revival of A Doll's House lit up Broadway in 1997, directs Huff and Anne Bancroft in the work, titled Edward Albee's Occupant. No, the italics aren't misguided; the play, formerly titled The Occupant, has seemingly taken a page from Gore Vidal's The Best Man and included its author in the title.
The two-character piece officially opens Feb. 24. The play covers the life of sculptor Louise Nevelson, to be played by Bancroft.
"It's about a woman fighting the traditions and conventions she was forced into in order to find her own path in life," Bancroft was quoted as saying. "And that's not just a problem for her or even just women. It's a problem for everyone: how do you find your own path?"
What with a recent, high-profile revival of Tiny Alice, the surprise success of The Play About the Baby Off-Broadway and plans being readied for the winter Broadway premiere of The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?, playwright Albee has earned the right to pull a switcheroo. As such, the promised world premiere of I Think Back Now on Andre Gide was pulled from the Signature Theatre line-up and replaced, during the same time period, with his Occupant. Mel Brooks, long married to Bancroft, had told Newsday that if his wife took the Occupant role, "it looks like we could be spending a lot more time in New York." Brooks, of course, is the co-author and composer of the mega-hit The Producers, who hinted that he and Thomas Meehan might turn to "Young Frankenstein" next. Bancroft, a two-time Tony winner for Two for the Seesaw and The Miracle Worker, is best known for originating the role of Mrs. Robinson in "The Graduate," which coincidentally will arrive as a Broadway comedy-drama in the spring.
According to a Publicity Office spokesperson, designing Edward Albee's Occupant are Christine Jones (sets), Pat Collins (lighting) and Jane Greenwood (costumes). In a coincidental note, though both plays deal with the life of Louise Nevelson, Edward Albee's Occupant has no connection to Catherine Gropper's drama Embers, which runs Jan. 23-Feb. 24 at the Chelsea Playhouse.)
Now in its tenth year, Signature Theatre generally devotes each full season to one playwright. To celebrate its tenth anniversary, the company has commissioned one new play each from the writers honored during its first nine years. In 1993-94, Signature staged Albee's Marriage Play, Counting the Ways, Listening, Sand and Fragments, though it was Three Tall Women, staged at the Vineyard that season, that resuscitated a career that stalled badly after the Broadway flop The Man Who Had Three Arms. Albee's landmark early plays included The Zoo Story and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.
The current Signature season opened with an extended run of Sam Shepard's The Late Henry Moss and, after the Albee play, will conclude with John Guare's A Few Stout Individuals (April 23-June 2, 2002; opening TBA), another world premiere. Guare's play, to be directed by Rent-meister Michael Greif, tells of a penniless man whose son squandered his fortune. He's offered a new fortune by a publishing company for his memoirs, but will he hang on long enough to write and remember?
Going back to its one-season-per-playwright modus operandi, the Signature Theatre Company will dedicate its 2002-03 season to Lanford Wilson.
—By David Lefkowitz