Wit's award-winning actress Kathleen Chalfant has left The Cherry Orchard. She was to have performed the starring role of Madama Ranevskaya but dropped out of the Long Wharf production when former artistic director Douglas Hughes left the theatre company.
In an article in the New Haven Register (June 8), Chalfant mentioned her thirty-year friendship with Hughes' mother Helen Stenborg and her close contact with Hughes himself over the last five years as the reasons for her exit. Hughes fought for her to take Wit Off-Broadway, even though she was not a star, and because of her success in the role (Chalfant played Dr. Vivian Bearing in Los Angeles, winning an Ovation Award, and in London), she felt obligated to support Hughes in his decision.
Hughes' father, actor Barnard Hughes (Waiting in the Wings, married to Stenborg) was scheduled to play the ancient servant Firs, but he also dropped out.
According to a press representative, The Cherry Orchard will still go on, beginning performances Sept. 19. Replacement actors for Chalfant and Hughes are being sought. David Esbjornson (The Play About the Baby) will still direct with David Strathairn as the merchant Lopakhin.
* With former artistic director Hughes in Chicago directing Steppenwolf's Hedda Gabler, the Long Wharf Theatre has announced a temporary replacement - director of artistic programming Greg Leaming. He and and managing director Michael Ross will produce the 2001-02 season.
Right now, that season looks poised for some changes. Hughes had been set to direct three pieces in 2001-02: Harry Kondoleon's Play Yourself, Hugh Leonard's Da in a co-production with the Guthrie Theater, and The Miser, which Hughes would have also translated. Because the split between Hughes and the Long Wharf was apparently not amicable (Daily Variety quoted Hughes' blame of the company's board for his resignation, saying "I needed the board's help to solve [the problem with board leadership], but I received none, so I had no alternative but to resign."), Da will not transfer from the Guthrie, nor will Hughes direct Play Yourself or The Miser.
Leaming joined the Long Wharf the same year Hughes did, 1997. He recently directed the world premieres of The Third Army, Syncopation and Abstract Expression. In 2001-02, he's slated to helm the world premiere of David Schulner's An Infinite Ache, running Oct. 17-Nov. 18, 2001. Before coming to the Long Wharf, Leaming was producing director at Hartford Stage for a year and artistic director of Portland Stage Company from 1992-1996.
Other shows planned for the Long Wharf season, expected to be uneffected by the staff changes, are Sinan Unel's Off-Broadway hit Pera Palas (Jan. 16-Feb. 17, 2002) and the world premiere of Dael Orlandersmith's Yellowman.
— By Christine Ehren