The company's last New York excursion, House/Lights, received a Village Voice OBIE as Best American Play. What will Off-Off-Broadway's Wooster Group DO next?
Well, the answer is 15 years old. North Atlantic, a mixed-media ensemble piece by James Strahs, first staged by the Wooster Group at its Performing Garage in January 1984, will become a "Rework-in-Progress" for the company Oct. 14-Nov. 21. Veteran Wooster Group members Willem Dafoe and Kate Valk were in the original mounting and will return again. Original cast member Spalding Gray will not be in the new lineup (he's busy getting Morning, Noon and Night ready for Broadway performances this fall), but filmdom's Steve Buscemi ("Barton Fink") will, as will Wooster Group associate members Chad Coleman, Steve Cuiffo, Ari Fliakos, Koosil-ja Hwang, Emily McDonnell, Helen Eve Pickett, Scott Shepherd and Michelle Stern. Additional performers include Philip Bussmann, James Dawson, Martin R. Desjardins, Jim Findlay, Mark Huang, Guy Larkin, Jeff Sugg, Ruud Van den Akker and Tara Webb.
Dafoe, star of the films, "The Last Temptation of Christ" and "Light Sleeper," will play the role originally played by the late Ron Vawter. Buscemi will play the character originally done by Dafoe. Jennifer Tipton will provide lighting for the piece, which will incorporate the company's trademark use of microphones and high-tech-meets-primitive theatrics, this one centering on audio tape and tape recorders.
Set on an aircraft carrier, North Atlantic looks at late-Century America, where "the analog technology of the time collides with American folk traditions in the form of choral speech, singing and dancing." Written in the post-Vietnam but pre-Perestroika era, North Atlantic also looks at the changing role of the military.
As with many Wooster Group offerings, the show, which is not open to critics, will likely go through a workshop period, with significant changes along the way. For example, the company worked on its staging of The Emperor Jones intermittently for three years. In its most recent re-mounting, lead actress Valk performed in blackface, which she did not use earlier. Wooster Group staffer Richard Kimmel told Playbill On-Line the hope is, after the initial run, to remount North Atlantic in spring 2000 as a full production, either at the Performing Garage or another Off-Broadway venue.
North Atlantic was first developed with a Dutch company and staged at Holland's Globe Theatre in 1983. The show then played briefly in New York and went on to have a staging at Washington DC's National Theatre (then run by Peter Sellars). Strahs' play last surfaced in 1988 at a special benefit performance.
Other Wooster Group productions include Fish Story (1994), The Hairy Ape (1995), and Brace Up! (1991). In 1991, the troupe won an Obie for 15 years of sustained excellence.
For tickets ($25) and information on North Atlantic call (212) 966 3651.
-- By David Lefkowitz