John Goodman, burly star of TV's "Roseanne," who's had a busy winter starring in a spate of film releases including The Borrowers and The Big Lebowski, has returned to the New York stage, playing Mr. Antrobus in the NY Shakespeare Festival's Central Park revival of The Skin of Our Teeth. Now in previews, the production opens June 28 for a limited run through July 12.
Co-starring with Goodman in The Skin of Our Teeth are Frances Conroy as Mrs. Antrobus and Kristen Johnson of TV's "Third Rock From the Sun," as Sabina. Irene Lewis, artistic director of Baltimore MD's Center Stage, directed the piece.
The Wilder play is one of two plays being offered as part of NYSF's annual program of free plays at the Delacorte Theatre, several of which have moved to Broadway (Pirates of Penzance, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, The Tempest) or are in the process of doing so (On the Town). The second 1998 Central Park production will be Andrei Serban's mounting of Shakespeare's Cymbeline (no casting announced, as of Apr. 21).
Wilder's surreal drama follows the Antrobus family, representing the family of Man, as it struggles to survive the Ice Age, marital infidelity and a hurricane that could presage the end of the world. The Pulitzer winning play also is being adapted as a musical by John Kander & Fred Ebb. The non-musical Goodman version will come first.
Goodman has been mixing theatre with film and TV work for several years. Among his stage appearances, he played Huck Finn's father, Pap, in the original Broadway production of the musical Big River, and can be heard singing "Guv'mint" on the original cast album. Little information is currently available on Cymbeline, which starts previews at the end of July.
Meanwhile at the Public:
The Cripple of Inishmaan, by the author of the current Off-to-on Broadway smash, The Beauty Queen of Leenane, runs to May 10, extended past its original Apr. 19 close. Martin McDonagh's Cripple was such a hot ticket, the extension was done even before the show opened, Apr. 7.
The Cripple Of Inishmaan is directed by Jerry Zaks (A Funny Thing...Forum). Nicholas Hytner (Carousel, The Madness Of King George) was originally scheduled to direct as he did in London, but he's just finished shooting the Wendy Wasserstein-scripted film, The Object Of My Affection and is concentrating on editing/post production.
In the UK, Inishmaan, McDonagh's bawdy dark comedy, transferred (April 30) from the Cottesloe to the larger Lyttleton Theatre on the West End for a run through Aug. 31.
Inishmaan concerns the gossiping and infighting of a town so small, a sheep born with no ears constitutes big news. When legendary Hollywood documentary director Robert Flaherty arrives to film his Man Of Aran, the whole town wants to get into the act, none more than 18 year-old "Cripple Billy," who sees the production as his ticket out of Inishmaan.
At LuEsther Hall, Adam Guettel, composer of the critically acclaimed Off Broadway musical Floyd Collins, is back in the spotlight. His new work, Saturn Returns: A Concert, received its world premiere Mar. 31 at The Joseph Papp Public Theatre/New York Shakespeare Festival. Preview performances began Mar. 24 for a run through Apr. 26, extended past the previously-announced Apr. 12.
The director is Tina Landau and the music director is Ted Sperling, both of whom worked with Guettel on Floyd Collins. Guettel has written his own lyrics for this project. Saturn Returns is billed as a non narrative song cycle about the search for "spiritual meaning in a secular world."
Guettel, who is Richard Rodgers' grandson, received an Obie Award for the 1996 Playwrights Horizons production of Floyd Collins. The Nonesuch Records recording of the show was released in 1997. Guettel's other credits include an operatic version of A Christmas Carol that was first produced at Trinity Rep and the soundtrack for the feature length documentary Arguing the World. Four of his songs will be featured on Audra McDonald's upcoming CD for Nonesuch Records.
On the smaller stages of the Public -- and already sold-out (May 7-17) -- is Everybody's Ruby: Story Of A Murder In Florida, based on the murder of a popular white doctor in 1952 Florida. A married black woman is accused of the crime, setting off tremendous racial agitation.
"I discovered the story in a footnote in a biography of Zora Neale Hurston," said adaptor Thulani Davis. "It was an amazing untold story about sex, race, money and Southern mores. I started out reading the newspaper clips Hurston wrote, and I couldn't answer to my own satisfaction why she didn't write a book about it. It raises questions about who owns a story."
Davis, a journalist and novelist as well as a playwright, also collaborated with Wolfe and opera composer Anthony Davis (X) on the new opera, Amistad, at Chicago's Lyric Opera. Roberta Levitow directs Ruby.
As for next season at NYSF, the only definite (as of Apr. 21) is Ellen McLaughlin's Tongue of a Bird. McLaughlin provided one of the most memorable theatre images of the 1990s, playing the angel in Angels in America, before turning to playwriting. She debuted her latest drama, Tongue of a Bird at Seattle's Intiman Theatre and then brought it to London's Almeida in November 1997.
One unusual aspect of the Seattle production: everyone in the cast, design and production team was a woman, led by director Lisa Peterson. Tongue of a Bird is described as "the powerful and poetic story of a search-and-rescue pilot who hunts for an abducted girl, while trying to come to terms with the loss of her own mother. . . about one woman's lost child, and another's lost childhood."
Originally commissioned by the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, the play was developed in Seattle in a February 1997 reading on the "New Voices at Intiman" series. The mainstage premiere was made possible by a grant from "AT&T OnStage."
McLaughlin's other plays include "Iphigenia and Other Daughters," "A Narrow Bed," "Infinity's House" and "Days and Nights Within."
Also expected at the Public is the return of On The Town, with rehearsals scheduled to get underway in August for an opening at a Broadway house in October. Artistic director Wolfe will again direct as he did at the Delacorte, though no choreographer has yet been chosen. As of Apr. 21, casting and venue have not yet been announced.
A dispute between director Wolfe and choreographer Christopher d'Amboise was blamed for postponing the planned Broadway transfer of the ul summer 1997 Central Park revival of On the Town, The New York Times reported Jan. 12.
The production, which was announcing casting as late as Jan. 6, was to have started rehearsals Feb. 24 and previews Apr. 7 at the St. James Theatre. The Times quoted a spokesperson for The Public Theatre, the revival's primary producer, as saying the production has been postponed until the fall 1998, presumably with a different choreographer.
The spokesperson said d'Amboise left the project owing to "genuine creative differences concerning the dance sequences that could not be resolved," between Wolfe and d'Amboise.
Choreographic problems have dogged this revival of the nearly through danced Leonard Bernstein/ Betty Comden/ Adolph Green musical, which grew from the Jerome Robbins ballet, "Fancy Free." Several times during the 1997 Delacorte Theatre engagement, condensation on the outdoor stage required choreographer Eliot Feld's dance sequences to be dropped in mid performance. Though the revival generally got excellent reviews, especially for comedienne Lea DeLaria as the randy cab driver, Feld's work was seriously questioned, and he withdrew from the Broadway transfer. Now d'Amboise has done the same, and a new choreographer will have to be found.
For more information on shows at NYSF/the Public Theatre call (212) 260 2400.
-- By David Lefkowitz