Bill Irwin, Paula Vogel and August Wilson Selected for Off-Bway Signature's Next Three Seasons

News   Bill Irwin, Paula Vogel and August Wilson Selected for Off-Bway Signature's Next Three Seasons Signature Theatre Company, the Off-Broadway troupe that devotes its fall-to-spring seasons to the work of one playwright, has announced the playwrights-in-residence for its next three seasons: Bill Irwin, Paula Vogel and August Wilson.
Bill Irwin
Bill Irwin (Photo by Aubrey Reuben)

The not-for-profit that is currently offering a slate of Lanford Wilson plays also announced that its founding artistic director, James Houghton, will take a sabbatical in 2004-05, during which guest artistic director Kate Loewald, a founding producer of The Play Company, will helm the season devoted to Vogel.

The choice of Irwin for the company's 13th season, 2003-04, comes as a bit of a surprise since many consider the gifted clown Irwin to be an artist whose works are so closely linked to his performances of them. It's easy to say Romulus Linney, Edward Albee and Horton Foote are American playwrights; Irwin comes less to mind in this category, though he is no less respected as an artist. His inclusion represents the troupe's wish to expand its vision to include non-traditional scripts and performance.

Founding director Houghton will return for the 15th anniversary season (2005-06) with August Wilson as the playwright-in-residence. That season is said to focus on Wilson plays outside of his famed decade-by-decade cycle of plays about the African-American experience in the 20th century.

The 2003-2004 season, dedicated to the works of Bill Irwin, will include The Harlequin Studies, a world premiere "collection of pieces featuring Irwin's take on the historic Harlequin character, the lewd and lazy rogue of traditional commedia dell'arte. A delightful event featuring acrobats, live music from Irwin's longtime collaborator Doug Skinner and much more"; The Regard Evening, a world premiere "adventure based on Irwin's acclaimed The Regard of Flight (a comedic tour-de-force previously staged at the American Place Theatre and Lincoln Center Theater)," billed as a vibrant update that will also "flash forward to today"; and Mr. Fox: A Rumination, a world premiere "reflection upon the life and work of America's first celebrity clown, George L. Fox (1825-1877), the comic forerunner to Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, the Marx Brothers and Bill Irwin himself." This last production is billed as "an exploration of the relationship of an actor's personae onstage to his life beyond the footlights."

"Bill Irwin, like all the writers we've had the good fortune to share seasons with, is one of those massive talents who moves us with his remarkable gift of storytelling," founder artistic director Houghton said in a statement. "I'm truly excited to have him join us for what I'm sure will be a memorable season and one that begins to challenge and embrace the range of our mission." The works are expected to star Irwin. Irwin was last seen starring opposite Sally Field in the 2002 Tony Award-winning play The Goat or Who Is Sylvia? by Edward Albee. Irwin was an original member of Kraken and was an original member of the Pickle Family Circus of San Francisco. He appeared as a guest with the ODC Dance Company of San Francisco, which first produced his original work. His own pieces, often developed with Doug Skinner and Michael O'Conner, include Not Quite/New York, The Courtroom and Regard Of Flight (also seen on PBS). On Broadway, Irwin's original work, Largely New York received five Tony Award nominations and won Drama Desk, Outer Critic Circle, New York Dance and Performance Awards. Irwin and David Shiner starred in and choreographed the hit Fool Moon. He also appeared with Steve Martin, Robin Williams and F. Murray Abraham in Waiting for Godot at Lincoln Center and Texts for Nothing directed by Joe Chaikin at the Public Theater and in George C. Wolfe's park production of The Tempest.

The Vogel season will "bring some of her older works back to New York" and give voice to "her newest work." She penned How I Learned to Drive, which took the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and The Baltimore Waltz, Hot n Throbbing and The Mineola Twins.

Pulitzer Prize-winner August Wilson is regarded as one of the great American dramatists for his expansive, varied, poetic imaginings of characters who reach for a piece of the American pie while struggling to define, erase or improve on their histories. His plays include The Piano Lesson, Fences, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, Seven Guitars, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, King Hedley II, Two Trains Running, Jitney and more. Houghton said, "August's season will provide a unique opportunity to look, for the first time, at some of his work outside of the cycle of plays he is so well-known for."

Guest artistic director Loewald is a producer of The Play Company, a not-for-profit theatre company she co-founded with Jack Temchin and the late Mike Ockrent in 1998. The Play Company "develops and produces an adventurous program of new plays and literary events from the U.S. and around the world." Productions include the world premiere of Leslie Ayvazian's High Dive directed by David Warren; the New York premiere of Alexandra Cunningham's No. 11 (Blue & White) directed by Daniel Aukin; and the American premiere of Monsieur Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Koran by French playwright Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, directed by Maria Mileaf. Loewald was head of the literary department at the Manhattan Theatre Club from 1989-99.

Signature Theatre Company performs at its Peter Norton Space, located at 555 W. 42nd Street (between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues). For additional information, visit http://www.signaturetheatre.org, or call (212) 244-PLAY (7529).