A late entry to the 2001 Williamstown Theatre Festival, Educating Rita, will begin performances at the Nikos Stage on June 27 for a run through July 8. Jacqueline McKenzie will play Rita, the self-improving Cockney hairdresser who hires Frank, a professor (played by Edward Herrmann) to increase her education. It is Frank, however, who ends up benefitting the most, lesson-wise, from the arrangement.
Willy Russell's tender comedy will be directed by Bruce Paltrow, father of Gwyneth and husband of Blythe Danner (a frequent stage partner of Herrmann's). Herrmann has a long history with Williamstown, having appeared in many plays there. His Broadway and Off-Broadway credits include The Deep Blue Sea, Psychopathia Sexualis, Mrs. Warren's Profession (Tony Award), The Philadelphia Story (Tony nomination) and Plenty. McKenzie is a newcomer to the festival.
"Educating Rita" was made into a well-regarded film starring Michael Caine.
The Nikos Stage season had its first tenant in A.R. Gurney's new comedy, Buffalo Gal, which ran June 13-24. The Mainstage season, meanwhile, began on June 20 with One Mo' Time, the Vernel Bagneris musical. The show plays through July 1 and is directed by Bagneris, who also stars.
* Eric Bogosian will make his WTF debut on the Nikos Stage, starring in Diva, a Howard M. Gould comedy about a spoiled film actress trying to break into television. Bebe Neuwirth, John Michael Higgins and C.J. Wilson will also star.
The second selection on the Main Stage, Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale, will feature a large and seasoned cast. Joining the already announced Kate Burton and Kristine Nielson will be Dylan Baker (That Championship Season, Tartuffe), Chris Fitzgerald (Fully Committed), Stephen DeRosa (Newyorkers) and Laura Benanti (Swing!, Time and Again). Burton played her now Broadway-bound Hedda Gabler at Williamstown last summer.
Film star and heartthrob Chris O'Donnell will star in Arthur Miller's seldom seen, early play The Man Who Had All the Luck. The famous 1944 Broadway flop that preceded All My Sons and Death of a Salesman is directed by Scott Ellis. The show will run on the Main Stage July 18-29. O'Donnell spent the '90s starring in such films as "Scent of a Woman" with Al Pacino, "Men Don't Leave" with Jessica Lange and "Circle of Friends" with Minnie Driver. His most widely-seen performance, however, was probably as Robin in "Batman Forever," the 1995 addition to the "Batman" movie franchise. Mason Adams, who has recently graced the New York stage in such Signature Theatre Company productions as Horton Foote's The Last of the Thorntons and John Guare's Lake Hollywood, will co-star.
"Dawson's Creek" star Michelle Williams will head the cast of a new mounting of Elmer Rice's naturalistic classic, Street Scene, presumedly taking the role of Rose Maurrant, the doomed tenement dwelling daughter of an adulterous mother and murderous father. The production, directed by Michael Grief, is in the tradition of such sprawling, large cast Williamstown productions as the revival of Dead End of several seasons ago.
The remaining season will run as follows:
• One Mo' Time, written and directed by Vernel Bagneris, June 20 July 1. A revival of the blues-flavored revue that played Off-Broadway in the early '90s.
• The Winter's Tale, by William Shakespeare, directed by Darko Tresnjak, July 4-15. The late tragedy of jealousy and redemption by the Bard. Tresnjak has directed a couple productions at the Blue Light Theatre Off-Broadway over the last couple years.
• The Man Who Had All the Luck, by Arthur Miller, directed by Scott Ellis, July 18-29.
• Street Scene, by Elmer Rice, directed by Michael Grief, Aug. 1-12. Rice's gritty tale of a hot June day and its impact on the inhabitants of a cramped tenement. A cast of 50 is advertised.
• Philadelphia, Here I Come!, by Brian Friel, directed by Kyle Donnelly, Aug. 15-26. Friel's tale of an young Irish man (and his alter ego) trying to make peace with his homeland and his father before setting off for America.
• Educating Rita, by Willy Russell, directed by Bruce Paltrow, June 27-July 8.
• Diva, by Howard M. Gould, directed by Neel Keller, July 11-22. A workshop production of a comedy about a spoiled film actress trying to break into television.
• The Dumb Waiter by Harold Pinter and The Zoo Story by Edward Albee, directed by Joe Mantello, July 25-Aug. 5. Two classic one-acts from two authors, one British and one American, deeply influenced by Samuel Beckett.
• Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Toward the Somme, by Frank McGuinness, directed by Nicholas Martin, Aug. 9-19. A drama about eight Irish nationalists serving in World War I.
In addition to the above productions, a workshop of Beth Blatt and Jenny Giering's new musical The Mistress Cycle is planned. The show takes a look at the life of mistresses around the world and down through the years. Audra McDonald recorded Giering's "I Follow" on her album "Way Back to Paradise." Also to be workshopped is Donald Margulies' latest, God of Vengeance. The adaptation of the Yiddish classic premiered at Seattle's A Contemporary Theatre in spring 2000. As in Seattle, Gordon Edelstein directs.
The festival will also feature a weekly reading series every Friday at 3 PM, starting on June 29.
—By Robert Simonson