The Drama Dept., the talent-studded, Off-Broadway troupe currently presenting a revival of George Kelly's The Torch-Bearers, has on its agenda new plays by Douglas Carter Beane, Richard Greenberg and Amy and David Sedaris. Except for David Sedaris, all are company members.
Two plays by Beane, who is the troupe's artistic director, have been Drama Dept. Productions: As Bees in Honey Drown and The Country Club. His new work, Music from a Sparkling Planet, concerns three pals who seek out the retired host of a local television kids show. Mark Brokaw is slated to direct. As with all the company's future offerings, no dates have been set, but logic dictates that no shows will be mounted until after the summer renovation of the ensemble's home, The Greenwich House.
Greenberg's new work, The Dazzle, will be directed by David Warren. Greenberg, an original member of the Dept., has yet to provide the company with a new play, although his one-act, The Author's Voice, was revived last season as part of a double bill. The new work is expected to get a reading this summer.
Amy Sedaris recently appeared in the troupe's production of Beane's The Country Club. Brother David, meanwhile, is the comic author of such volumes as "Barrel Fever" and "Naked." Together, they operate as The Talent Family and have presented a series of satirical, sketch-like comedies such as One Woman Shoe and The Little Frieda Mysteries. Most of these shows were seen at La MaMa, but the Sedaris siblings appear to have found a new home at the Drama Dept. No title has been attached to their upcoming endeavor.
The company has stressed, in a brochure, that "we aren't exactly sure when these plays will hit the beaches (October 2000-ish) -- and we aren't exactly sure we'll get to do these three in this order" [Italics theirs]. *
In other news, a trio of stalwart theatre ladies -- Marian Seldes, Joan Copeland and Faith Prince -- lead the cast of the Drama Dept.'s revival of George Kelly's The Torch-Bearers. The production, which began previews at the Greenwich House Theatre on Feb. 11, will open Feb. 23 and run through March 4. Novice director and full-time actor, Dylan Baker, will take the helm.
Prince, last seen on the stage in the Roundabout Theatre Company revival of Little Me, has been concentrating on her new cabaret career of late. Her solo show, "Leap of Faith," has been seen at the Firebird Cafe and Joe's Pub, among other spaces. This will be her first straight dramatic role in some time. Following the production, she will join the cast of Broadway's The Dead.
Seldes has been busy of late, appearing, during the past year, in a Carnegie Hall concert reading of Noel Coward's Sail Away, Irish Rep's Dear Liar, and Broadway's Ring Round the Moon.
Copeland's credits include the original production of Arthur Miller's The American Clock, The Extra Man (Obie Award) and, more recently, Over the River and Through the Woods.
Also in the cast are Claire Beckman, David Garrison, Judy Blazer, Ralph Cole Jr., Albert Macklin, Susan Mansur, Don Mayo and Paul Mullins.
Baker's many acting credits include Tartuffe, The Common Pursuit, Eastern Standard, La Bete, Pride's Crossing and That Championship Season. He is an original member of the Drama Dept., as is his wife, Becky Ann Baker (June Moon).
George Kelly, born in 1887, flourished in the 1920's and is best known for the oft-revived The Show-Off. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his next play, Craig's Wife, about a fetishistically possessive woman. Kelly began his theatre career as a vaudeville actor and some of his experiences are no doubt reflected in his first play, The Torchbearers, a satire on amateur theatricals.
With the exception of one show, every production presented by the nearly five-year-old Drama Dept. theatre company has been staged in The Greenwich House, a 100-year-old community center located on Barrow Street just off Seventh Avenue in Greenwich Village. (June Moon was first seen at the Ohio Theatre.) Now, the troupe hopes to spruce up the building and make it its permanent home.
Drama Dept. managing director Mike Rosenberg told Playbill On-Line that the company has entered into an agreement with the Greenwich House in which the theatre will relocate its offices to the center in March and initiate a $3 million dollar renovation of the 1916 building's theatre, lobby and edifice.
"When The Torchbearers closes, we will move our offices down to the Greenwich House," said Rosenberg. The company will set up temporary headquarters in the lobby, while work is done on the auditorium. A complete restoration of the lobby and then the exterior will follow.
"We're creating a pretty neat partnership with the Greenwich House," said Rosenberg. As the Drama Dept. was casting about for a permanent theatre, they learned that Greenwich House was hoping to redo their home base in anticipation of the organization's centenary in 2002. In exchange for residence in the building and a break on the rent, the ensemble offered to take over fund-raising efforts for the renovation. Greenwich House agreed.
The troupe plans to raise half of the $3 million from two or three individual donors and then match that amount through a fund-raising campaign.
Among the planned improvements to the theatre will be a higher ceiling to better accommodate production design elements, new chairs (though they will remain unfixed) and a new, quieter air-conditioning system. Ancient dimmer boards will be brought up to code to eliminate the blown circuits which have sometimes halted performances. And the present single dressing room will be replaced by two changing rooms, one for men and one for women. Each will feature showers and bathrooms, bringing them up to Equity standards.
As for the lobby and exterior, the Drama Dept. hopes to return the building to its 1916 glory. The lobby will be opened up, removing office space near the entrance. This will, in turn, reclaim the street view into the lobby through the outside windows, which will also be restored. The new lobby will, furthermore, feature a bar area, an improved box office and a coat check.
The dark, easily missable facade of the Greenwich House will be highlighted by exterior lights and banners.
Rosenberg said he hopes the renovation takes no more than six months, so that the company can be up and producing again in the fall.
-- By Robert Simonson