Drama Dept. To See Moon Rise In New Jersey

News   Drama Dept. To See Moon Rise In New Jersey Fresh off last season's well-received Kingdom Of Earth, a reworking of Tennessee Williams' Seven Descents Of Myrtle, the Off-Broadway theatre company Drama Dept. scored with their revival of June Moon, staged in January at the Ohio Theatre in New York's Greenwich Village. The 1929 play with music, with a book by George S. Kaufman and Ring Lardner, and music by Lardner, won the 1997 Lucille Lortel Award for Best Revival.

Fresh off last season's well-received Kingdom Of Earth, a reworking of Tennessee Williams' Seven Descents Of Myrtle, the Off-Broadway theatre company Drama Dept. scored with their revival of June Moon, staged in January at the Ohio Theatre in New York's Greenwich Village. The 1929 play with music, with a book by George S. Kaufman and Ring Lardner, and music by Lardner, won the 1997 Lucille Lortel Award for Best Revival.

The show began previews Jan. 7, opened the following night, and was extended through Jan. 26. June Moon will likely return for a commercial Off-Broadway run sometime in the fall. Another Off Broadway gig is contingent, though, on how well the show plays at NJ's McCarter Theatre, Sept. 19-Oct. 5. As he did this winter, Mark Nelson (star of Off Broadway's Picasso At The Lapin Agile) will direct.

Some members of the Off-Broadway cast will likely be in the McCarter production. McCarter Theatre spokesperson Dan Bauer said he expected the cast to be finalized by Aug. 26.

[Starring in the piece at the Ohio Theatre were Cynthia Nixon (Kingdom, Broadway's Hurlyburly and Angels In America), Robert Joy (The Nerd), Albert Macklin, Becky Ann Baker, Amy Hohn, Robert Ari, Peter Jacobson and Stacy Highsmith] A New York venue and dates for the revival's return have not yet been announced. The show's film rights were recently sold to Universal.

Though a young company on a low budget, Drama Dept. has been getting significant exposure for its productions of Kingdom Of Earth, This Is Our Youth, June Moon and As Bees In Honey Drown. Director Nelson credited the company's press agency, Boneau/Bryan-Brown, for its high profile. "We've been working on a modest scale," said Nelson (Aug. 21). "June Moon was my New York directing debut. John Cameron Mitchell did the same with Tennessee Williams' Kingdom of Earth. We work with shoestring budgets and no pay for the actors. But we got phenomenal attention." Continued Nelson, "I've only directed twice (Moon and Sight Unseen at Portland Stage). I'm much more at home as an actor. I love my directing experiences, but love them more when they're over. The sleepless nights and logistics overwhelm me. An actor can stand by and criticizing the director's decisions. Every play I've ever done, I thought I could direct. Now that I'm in the driver's seat, I know those decisions can be hell."

Not only is Nelson helming June Moon at the McCarter, he's readying for a six-to-nine month tour of Picasso At The Lapine Agile, recreating his Off-Broadway Albert Einstein. Asked how that would affect his duties at Drama Dept, Nelson replied, "The company is loosely constructed. Mike Rosenberg and Doug [Douglas Carter Beane] are the core and call the shots, but the company members are far-flung and informal. Many wonderful actors and writers in the company haven't yet been involved in a production. So maybe when I go away it's their turn."

As for Drama Dept.'s plans, the distant future involves a permanent space for the company: "I've heard whispers about looking for a home," said Nelson. "There was talk when we were at the Greenwich House about a long-term arrangement..." The near future holds the troupe's next show: a post-modern, experimental version of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Randolph Curtis Rand, a member of Arden Party, will direct, making it the second version of Cabin to reach Off-Broadway this fall. "Part of the motto of the company is keep `em guessing," said Nelson. "Part of what I love about this business is the surprise factor. No matter how hard you plan, something different happens that changes the course of your career. At the same time, you look for something generous and large spirited and excellent, and that you can achieve with some kind of expertise."

The original June Moon opened just prior to the 1929 stock market crash and tells of a naive, Tin Pan Alley songwriter who falls for a big city woman.

According to the "Burns Mantle Best Plays Of 1929-1930," June Moon was based on Lardner's short story, "Some Like `Em Cold." The volume excerpted the play as one of the season's best, calling it "one of the major triumphs of the theatre season."

Drama Dept. was formed in 1994 to "create, develop and produce new and neglected plays, as well as to work with educational institutions to help foster new artists and audiences." Company members include Sarah Jessica Parker, Peter Gallagher, Nicky Silver and John Cameron Mitchell.

--By David Lefkowitz

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