Though Off-Broadway's Primary Stages is still in the throes of its current season, already plans are underway for the next. Two shows are basically definite at this point: Conor McPherson's Dublin Carol, a play that was eyed for Broadway a season ago; and an as-yet-untitled work by Debon Abner. According to Primary Stages artistic director Casey Childs, Horton Foote will direct and Estelle Parsons will star.
Foote is best known as a playwright and author of such Texas-based plays as 1918 and The Last of the Thorntons, though he directed daughter Daisy's play, When They Speak of Rita, for Primary Stages last year.
Actress Parsons starred in Hartford Stage's 1998 production of Happy Days. She won an Oscar for "Bonnie and Clyde" and was nominated again for Paul Newman's "Rachel, Rachel". Other films include "Dick Tracy," "Boys on the Side," "That Darn Cat," and "Looking for Richard." She also played Roseanne's mother Bev on "Roseanne."
In other Primary Stages news, you can't see the title in the New York Times and a few other publications, but you can see the play: It's John Henry Redwood's No Niggers, No Jews, No Dogs, starting previews March 21 for an opening April 2 and a runs through April 22. Tickets are "selling well," Primary Stages artistic director Casey Childs told Playbill On-Line (March 23), "which could lead to an extension of a couple of weeks." Author Redwood penned the regionally popular The Old Settler. No Niggers... is a co-premiere with Philadelphia Theatre Company, who mounted the drama in Jan-Feb.
Regarding the show's potentially controversial title, author Redwood said in a statement, "The title of this drama, inspired by a road sign I actually saw in the South, reflects the racism which the play's characters must face in their daily conflicts."
Road sign or no, the "N" word has proved troublesome to the show's marketing. A spokesperson at the Jeffrey Richards office told Playbill On Line (March 22) that the New York Times and other publications have balked at advertising the Redwood play because of the title (though sources close to the production say the Times opted for "No *******, No Jews, No Dogs"). "The title hits a nerve with people," the spokesperson said. "But that comes from ignorance, because it's a warm and engaging story. The title isn't meant to be inflammatory; it comes from an actual sign the author saw when he was a boy in the South."
Artistic director Childs admitted (March 23) that early on, he tried to convince Redwood to change the show's title. "It's something we don't usually do. It's a very in-your-face title for what is actually a very warm hearted play. But John was adamant, and I think his point was that there was a day when these signs were very commonplace."
"What's interesting," continued Childs, "is that white people are far more afraid of the title than black people are. Or people think it should be, `No Niggers, No Kikes, No Dogs," not realizing that in the South at the time, the word `Jew' was already considered derogatory. I my research on the play, I found pictures of clubs in the Adirondacks that had signs reading `No Hebrews, No Animals.'"
Research or no, marketing the play has been ticklish. "I was more afraid of the title in Philadelphia than in New York City," Childs told Playbill On Line. We were lucky in that Philadelphia Theatre Company artistic director Sarah Garonzik got the Philadelphia President of the NAACP to help, and she used his quotes on everything they put out. Even so, we couldn't advertise on bus shelters, etc."
Regarding the New York staging, Childs notes that the poster outside the theater does stop pedestrian traffic, and that the company did a promotional mailing but not their usual postcard for the show. "We did a fold-over. On the front of the card you see a sign but not the end of the words. We were afraid the post office would not mail it."
Set in 1949 North Carolina, No Niggers, No Jews, No Dogs tells of the relationship between a Jewish sociologist and the black family he's come to study.
Israel Hicks, a veteran of the Denver Center Theatre Company, directs No Dogs at both venues, where it stars Jack Aaron, Adrienne Carter, Rayme Lyn Cornell, Marcus Naylor, Elizabeth Van Dyke (Checkmates) and Charis Marguerite Wilson. Van Dyke plays Mattie Cheeks, a mother trying to protect her daughters and save her marriage.
Designing the show are Michael Brown (set), Ann G. Wrightson (lighting), Christine Field (costumes) and Eileen Tague (sound). Michele Volansky serves as dramaturg.
For tickets ($40-$45) and information on No Niggers, No Jews, No Dogs at Primary Stages, 354 West 45 St., call (212) 489-6745.
Closing the Primary Stages season will be Byrd's Boy, a drama based on the true story of a homeless man in Baltimore who turned out to be the son of Admiral Byrd. Primary Stages is co-producing Bruce Jay Robinson's play with Jeffrey Ash (Other People's Money. Arthur Marsella directs.
Regarding Primary Stages' 99-seat home space (on West 45th Street in a Spanish masonic lodge building), the company has been looking to move for several years, but two 199-seat venues have fallen through in the past four years, and it looks as though the theatre is staying put for awhile. As such, they're trying to raise $300,000 to renovate the space in summer 2002.
— By David Lefkowitz