Bill Irwin Conjures the Ghost of American Clown, Mr. Fox, for Off-Bway's Signature

News   Bill Irwin Conjures the Ghost of American Clown, Mr. Fox, for Off-Bway's Signature One of the forgotten characters from American theatre history is revived by playwright-clown Bill Irwin in the world premiere of Mr. Fox: A Rumination, for Off-Broadway's Signature Theatre, beginning March 24.
George L. Fox
George L. Fox

Mr. Fox marks the last of three Irwin pieces in a 2003-04 Signature season devoted to the man who created such works as Fool Moon, The Regard of Flight and Largely/New York. The new piece is about 19th-century musical pantomime star George L. Fox (1825-1877), who was best known for his often-revived show, Humpty Dumpty, an entertainment that incorporated contemporary references, nursery-rhyme characters and classic theatre archetypes such as Harlequin, Pantaloon, Columbine and others.

Signature artistic director James Houghton directs actor-writer Irwin, with Bianca Amato, Jason Butler Harner, Geoff Hoyle, Marc Damon Johnson, Peter Maloney and Richard Poe.

Opening is April 13 and closing is May 2 at Signature's home at the Peter Norton Space at 555 W. 42nd Street.

The first two productions of Signature's 2003-04 Bill Irwin Season, The Harlequin Studies and The Regard Evening received critical acclaim and were both extended due to popular demand.

As Signature bills it, Mr. Fox: A Rumination "is a reflection on the life and work of one of theatre's most celebrated clowns, George L. Fox. Fox delighted audiences from the Bowery to Broadway with his raucous and ribald performances, but he could not escape his greatest success, the white-face role of 'Humpty Dumpty.' Mr. Fox: A Rumination is one clown's rumination on another, on the life of a performer, and on the act of performance itself." Although George Washington Lafayette Fox was connected to shows that had family-friendly nursery rhyme titles such as Hiccory Diccory Dock (1869) and Wee Willie Winkie (1870), he had a dark side, according to The Concise Oxford Companion to American Theatre. His behavior over the years grew erratic, and he once attacked audience members at a show, apparently unprovoked. He was one of the highest-paid theatre artists of his day, reportedly earning $20,000 a year.

Designers for Mr. Fox are Christine Jones (set), Elizabeth Caitlin Ward (costumes), James Vermeulen (lighting) and Brett R. Jarvis (sound). Music for the production is by Loren Toolajian. Kate Wilson is voice coach, and Jennifer Grutza is production stage manager.

Playwright, clown, actor, director Bill Irwin, Signature's current playwright-in-residence, began clowning with San Francisco's Pickle Family Circus. He would later create many original works including the Broadway productions of the Tony Award-winning Fool Moon, The Regard of Flight and Largely/New York. He is also renowned for his original takes as performer and director of Texts for Nothing (CSC and NYSF) and Scapin at the Roundabout Theater Company, where he also directed and helped adapt A Flea in Her Ear. His appearances as an actor range from Edward Albee's The Goat on Broadway and Waiting for Godot at Lincoln Center Theater to Mr. Noodle on "Sesame Street," and span many other television and film roles.

Houghton directed Lanford Wilson's Burn This for the Signature Theatre Company at the Union Square Theatre. His other directing credits for Signature include the world premiere of Horton Foote's The Last of the Thorntons as part of the theatre's 2000-02 All Premiere Anniversary Celebration, Arthur Miller's The American Clock (Drama Desk nomination for Direction), Miller's radio play, "The Pussycat and the Expert Plumber Who Was a Man" (broadcast on NPR), Sam Shepard's Curse of the Starving Class, Romulus Linney's Heathen Valley and Ambrosio (world premiere), both co-directed with Linney, the world premieres of Adrienne Kennedy's Obie Award-winning June and Jean in Concert and Horton Foote's Laura Dennis, the New York premieres of Edward Albee's Fragments and Marriage Play, and Lee Blessing's Two Rooms. In the fall of 1999 he directed the regional premiere of Arthur Miller's Mr. Peters' Connections at the Guthrie Theater, where he also serves as artistic advisor.

The Mr. Fox performance schedule is Wednesday through Sunday at 8 PM; Saturday and Sunday at 3 PM. There will be additional performances on April 6 at 8 PM and April 12 at 8 PM. There will be no performances on April 11 at 8 PM and April 18 at 8 PM. Single tickets are $55. For subscription and ticket information, call (212) 244-PLAY. For additional information, visit www.signaturetheatre.org.

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