It's rare when a major playwright revises a Pulitzer Prize-winning play. But it happened in Chicago this year when Horton Foote reopened his 1995 Pulitzer-winning drama, The Young Man From Atlanta, at the Goodman Theatre. The production, featuring the revised script, opened on Broadway March 27 at the Longacre Theatre.
Reviews were generally strong, and the show garnered a Best Play Tony nomination, as well as nominations for lead actress Shirley Knight and supporting actor William Biff McGuire.
At the annual Tony Nominations Brunch, held May 14 at Sardi's Restaurant, Knight told Playbill On-Line she didn't really get a firm hold on her character until late April -- a couple of weeks after the show officially opened. "It was a slow process," the two-time Emmy winner said, "but I finally became comfortable in her skin."
Foote, who wrote A Trip To Bountiful, and many other plays and films, won the Pulitzer for his story of a Texas couple in 1950 who gradually come to grips with several family secrets, most notably the fact that their late son was gay.
Tickets for the Broadway engagement are now on sale from Tele-charge at (212) 239-6200. Outside NY metro area: (800) 432-7250. You can also order tickets on Playbill On-Line. Production spokesperson Roger Bean told Playbill On-Line that not only was the show a part of the Broadway Alliance, specifically designed to make theatre prices more reasonable, but the producers are offering a special student discount. Tickets are only $7.50 with a valid student I.D. -- "less than the cost of a movie ticket" said Bean. (As of May 14, the promotion was still ongoing.)
The idea for the $7.50 seats (up to 2 per I.D.) came to the producers when Young Man was in Chicago. "A lot of kids came to the show -- not young kids, teenagers -- and liked it and told their friends. So we're hoping that will happen in New York as well. And it's so important to get new audiences into Broadway. If they see a show and like it, they'll want to come back."
The play won the Pulitzer following its world-premiere production at the small Off-Broadway Signature Theatre Company, which (as they've done with Edward Albee and Sam Shepard) dedicated an entire season to Horton Foote's work.
Although Peter Masterson directed the play in New York, Goodman artistic director Robert Falls took the helm for this engagement. The stars are different, too. Rip Torn and Shirley Knight will be featured as the aging couple coping with his sudden retirement and the memory of their dead son. Also in the cast are William Biff McGuire, Kevin Breznahan, Pat Nesbit, Stephen Trovillion, Jacqueline Williams, Beatrice Winde and Marcus Giamatti. The elderly McGuire has known Foote since he was 20, and he appeared in several of Foote's television dramas in the 1950s. Giamatti appeared with his brother, Paul, in Manhattan Theatre Club's The Blues Are Running.
The Young Man From Atlanta is designed by Thomas Lynch (sets), James F. Ingalls (lighting) and David C. Woolard (costumes).
The post-Signature Theatre production in Boston and Texas revealed problems in early 1996, which the producer felt demanded major creative changes, including both cast (Ralph Waite and Carlin Glynn) and director. Complicating the situation was the fact that Masterson and Foote are cousins, and the playwright was torn between family and professional loyalties.
"There were tears and harsh words exchanged," said someone close to both parties. But when the smoke cleared, Falls was the new director, and Shirley Knight and Rip Torn the leads.
"A producer must be passionate, persistent and patient," says David Richenthal, the N.Y. co-producer with Anita Waxman and Jujamcyn. "We reached for someone we considered to be the best director in the country for American material, someone who could take Horton's remarkable work and best reveal the subterranean working beneath the surface."
The producer added that he hoped the Chicago production would give the playwright and new creative team even more time to work on the play to make it even "tighter and sharper."
Goodman Theatre dramaturg Tom Creamer told Playbill On-Line that changes to the text have really been a matter of fine tuning. "The rewrites from Horton Foote have been small changes, a line here and there. He and Robert Falls got together for a couple of days in Wharton, Texas, and worked on repositioning information, taking a line of exposition from one scene to another. But the scenes themselves are still intact."
Creamer explained the reason Torn and Knight were chosen to replace Waite and Glynn. "I'd heard the play worked well on the Signature space, but bigger houses are more trouble, and the production didn't expand its scale to fit the houses. Horton's plays work so well on TV and the screen because you can always go in for a close-up." With 683 seats, the Goodman isn't exactly a cozy nook, but Creamer reasoned, "Intimate plays can work, but you need a powerhouse. Like when we did A Touch Of The Poet last year we got Brian Dennehey. You need the voice. Also we have Tom Lynch designing it so we'll get a real sense of the house they live in, their environment."