Defying Gravity, a new play suggested by the life of Christa McAuliffe -- the teacher-in-space participant who perished Jan. 23, 1986 in the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger -- is being prepared for a spring opening Off-Broadway.
Written by Jane (The Baby Dance) Anderson, it is, according to producer Daryl Roth, "a gorgeous play -- with a very universal theme. It's really about mothers and daughters, teachers and students. Christa isn't mentioned by name. She's called Teacher."
Frances McDormand, a probably Oscar contender for her performance of the housewife-cop in Fargo, and Cherry Jones, who turned in a Tony-winning portrayal of The Heiress, head the short list to play the Christa-like role.
For the role of her father, the thinking is to use a young adult, rather than an actual child. But this will be addressed in depth early next year.
For the time being, Roth is about to do a little gravity-defying herself, jetting to London for Nov. 18's launching of her Promenade hit, Old Wicked Songs. Bob Hopkins and James Callis star at the Gielgud (nee Globe) Theatre.Before leaving, she ran through a number of projects presently on her place. Most immediate is Names, a Mark Kemble's play about the Hollywood blacklist.
"All the characters in that play," says Roth, "are member of The Group Theatre -- Lee Strasberg, Luther Adler, Stella Adler, Clifford Odets, Elia Kazan. It's about a time in history when Kazan approached his friends and told them he's going to name them" [to the House Un-American Activities Committee].
"There's a good conversation going right now between me and American Jewish Theatre about finding a place for it on its schedule next season. I like to do that. I like to give plays a safe haven. I did that Old Wicked Songs. I did it at Jewish Rep before I opened-ended it at the Promenade."
The other irons she has in the fire are cinematic. She just acquired the screen rights to Antigone in New York, the Janusz Glowacki antic which the Vineyard Theatre presented last spring with Ned Eisenberg, Steve Skybell and Patricia Lopez. The other film she is producing is currently before the cameras -- I Think I Do, written and directed by Brian Slan. "A very beautiful slice of life," she calls it, "an interesting combination of 'Friends' and 'The Big Chill' with a gay theme underneath it. It's about some friends who gather together at a wedding a few years after graduation."
-- By Harry Haun