Lois Smith, David New, Sally Murphy and Amy Morton play members of the fabulous Cavendish family, the Barrymore-like acting clan at the center of the 1927 George S. Kaufman-Edna Ferber comedy, The Royal Family, running at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company April 18-June 16.
The production, directed by Frank Galati, is in the tradition of such lavish Steppenwolf ventures into the American theatrical past as The Man Who Came to Dinner, Harvey and You Can't Take It With You
Smith—a two-time Tony nominee for Buried Child and The Grapes of Wrath who returns to Steppenwolf for the second time this season after opening the 2001-02 Mainstage line-up in Mother Courage—is family patriarch Fanny Cavendish. Morton is her Ethel Barrymore-ish daughter Julie, while New is Tony Cavendish, recently returned from Hollywood and forever acting out (even by family standards).
Murphy, recently seen Off-Broadway in Brutal Imagination, is Gwen Cavendish. Also in the cast are Christopher Innvar as Gilbert Marshall, B.J. Jones as Herbert Dean, Rondi Reed as Kitty Dean and Alan Wilder as Oscar Wolfe.
The play inspired a 1930 film starring Frederic March and Ina Claire. A recent West End mounting was headlined by Dame Judi Dench as Fanny. *
The current season concludes with a new work by playwright Bruce Norris. Norris is well known as an actor. Most recently, he starred on Broadway opposite Ron Rifkin in the short-lived Wrong Mountain. Other New York credits include Plunge, An American Daughter, Marco Polo Sings a Solo and La Terrasse. His play The Infidel enjoyed an extended run at Steppenwolf's Studio space last winter. With his latest work, Purple Heart, running July 5-Aug. 25 (opening July 14), he graduates to the mainstage. Laurie Metcalf stars as a mother trying to go on after her husband is killed in the Vietnam War. Anna Shapiro, who directed The Infidel, returns to Norris' work.
The Steppenwolf Theatre Company will begin its 2002-03 mainstage season in the 1930's and end at the close of World War I, with a couple of racially tinged modern dramas tossed in in-between.
The season commences on Sept. 12 with a new revival of William Saroyan's cozy classic, The Time of Your Life—continued Steppenwolf's long tradition of unearthing hoary, big cast American chestnuts. Tina Landau will direct the play, which takes place in a waterfront bar patronized by the benevolent oddball Joe, who from his bar stool watches life pass by and sagely comments on the goings-on in his small world, as well as the world at large. The play was made into a movie starring James Cagney. Time will run through Nov. 3.
I Just Stopped by to See the Man, running Nov. 14-Jan. 12, 2003, will follow. Marion McClinton (Jitney, Breath, Boom) will direct this piece by Stephen Jeffreys, which follows an English rock band in search of legendary Delta blues singer Jesse Davidson. As the story goes, Davidson sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his skills as a musician. But other stories say that Davidson is not dead at all. The plot is drawn from the well known rumors and folklore surrounding Robert Johnson, a guitarist who influenced the likes of Eric Clapton. Johnson's story has been the basis of several movies, including 1986's "Crossroads."
Breathe by Javon Johnson, which take the third slot of Jan. 30 March 23, 2003. Ron OJ Person directs the tale of two sons from different families and of different skin color, and the consequences they face after committing separate acts of violence.
The fifth and final slot, running July 10-Aug. 31, 2003, is reserved for Richard Greenberg's The Violet Hour, which will have its premiere at South Coast Rep Nov. 5, 2002. The Violet Hour takes place in the small New York City office of John Seaverings Pace, a writer who, having made it through World War I, is ready to get on with the future. Unfortunately, he can't find his theatre tickets, and his decisions during the day will impact the lives of four others: his employee, two budding writers and his friend's fiance. Terry Kinney will direct.
A fifth play, to run April 17-June 15, is yet to be selected.
—By Robert Simonson