With Tony Kushner's Eastern European Dybbuk already whirling around the Public Theatre's Newman space, a whole other world is going on at Martinson Hall, Nov. 4-Dec. 7. That's where Philip Kan Gotanda's Ballad Of Yachiyo, a lyrical look of a girl's tragic introduction to adulthood, spins its own sad tale, opening Nov. 11.
Sharon Ott directs the drama, which takes place in a Japanese immigrant community of 1919 Hawaii. A love triangle ensues between a naive girl, a passionate artist and the woman who needs them both. Ott previously directed the play in 1996 at CA's Berkeley Repertory Theatre and South Coast Rep. She also staged Gotanda's Yankee Dawg You Die at Berkeley Rep and NY's Playwrights Horizons. Ballad Of Yachiyo won the 1996 PEN Center West Award for best new dramatic work.
Starring in Yachiyo are J.B. Barricklo, Francois Chau, Peggy Cheng, Kim Ima, Sala Iwamatsu, Dian Kobayashi, Emily Kuroda, Sab Shimono, Greg Watanabe and Annie Yee. Designing the show are Loy Arcenas (set), Lydia Tanji (costumes), Peter Maradudin (lighting) and Stephen LeGrand (sound). Dan Kuramoto has composed original music for the piece, which features puppet work by Bruce Schwartz.
Guggenheim Award-winner Kan Gotanda is currently working on two new plays, Yohen and Sisters Matsumoto. His previous works include Day Standing On Its Head and The Avocado Kid.
Asked about the play's origin, Kan Gotanda told Karen Amano (of Berkeley Rep) "Iwork on a lot of my plays a long time, and this one I've been thinking about for almost 12 years. I was talking to my father. I had been sort of investigating my own family tree, especially the Hawaiian side. He was talking about his family, and then one day he mentioned a sister, Yachiyo, whom I had never heard of... He basically said she died, and then he moved along. And I immediately thought maybe there's something more here." Kan Gotanda went on to say that no one in his family felt comfortable talking about it, but he followed up on Yachiyo when he was on his honeymoon in Hawaii. "I ran into some relatives and they seemed to be a little more open to talking to me about the story, and they gave us a picture of Yachiyo as a young woman. I sat on it for a couple more years and I decided to try it... It's a fictionalized account based on a true event."
For tickets ($35) and information on The Ballad Of Yachiyo call (212) 239-6200.
In other season news at the Public, Public Theatre/NY Shakespeare Festival artistic director George C. Wolfe will direct Macbeth, the first post-Marathon William Shakespeare work done at the theatre, scheduled for Feb. 1998. Film actor Alec Baldwin, who has appeared on stage in Prelude to a Kiss and A Streetcar Named Desire, will play the title role in winter 1998. Rehearsals begin in January 1998.
As first reported Variety and confirmed by the Public Theatre press office (Sept. 25), Baldwin's Lady Macbeth will be Angela Bassett, star of the Tina Turner biopic, What's Love Got To Do With It?. She did Henry IV - Part I at the Public, directed by Joseph Papp in 1987. She also played Martha in Joe Turner's Come And Gone (1988).
Back in July 1996, Esquire magazine selected Angela Bassett as part of a special tribute ("Women Esquire Loves"). As reported by Newsday's Liz Smith, George C. Wolfe wrote this of Bassett: "I must admit that every time I see her on screen, it only makes me long for her to return to the stage. Maggie the Cat, Lady Macbeth, Cleopatra...Hedda Gabler, Medea -- They all have the gifted Miss Bassett's name on them, as does the new play I'm working on called, "Angela, Come Home."'
Wolfe sees the production of Macbeth as an acting showcase for Baldwin. "[He's] a great American actor. He has a strong intelligence and visceral intensity that will combine wonderfully for this character."
Also intriguing Wolfe is the dichotomy of Macbeth being told he's immortal -- and thus, untouchable -- and yet he's warned of an impending death that comes true. And the director will also take a fresh look at the Witches: "There's a cliched image of what they look like, what they represent, that keeps us from really seeing the characters. I'd like to bulldoze that cliche down. Macbeth is a smart man; why would he believe them if they were these `out-there' crazy women?"
Macbeth, the story of a Scottish nobleman who murders his way to the throne with the help of a little supernatural advice, is the focus of intense superstition in the theatrical world. The play is believed to be cursed, and productions -- especially big star productions -- are, coincidentally or not, attended by an unusual number of mishaps.
The last Broadway revival -- starring Christopher Plummer and Glenda Jackson -- went through three directors, a number of designers and support personnel, and had legendary problems with sets and tempers.
Actors will not even speak the name of the play aloud, especially when inside a theatre, preferring to refer to it as "the Scottish play."
[On a personal note, the first time Playbill On-Line used the title in a headline on the home page, our server shut down. If you're reading this now, it's only through the grace of Thanos and Melpomene.]
Open ing March 1998 at the Public will be The Cripple Of Inishmaan, to be 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 now must concentrate on editing/post-production. Martin 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.
Starring in the London Inishmaan were Ruaidhri Conroy, Doreen Hepburn, Gary Lydon, Ray McBride, Dearbhla Molloy, Aisling O'Sullivan (Hysteria at the Royal Court), Anita Reeves, John Rogan and Owen Sharpe. Designers for the show were Bob Crowley (set), Mark Henderson (lighting), and Paddy Cunneen (music). No word on whether any of the above will make the transfer to the New York production.
McDonagh's previous play, The Beauty Queen Of Leenane played at London's Royal Court in 1996.
Expected for April 1998 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, is also collaborating with Wolfe and opera composer Anthony Davis (X) on a new opera, Amistad, to premiere at Chicago's Lyric Opera in the months ahead.
The playful and erotic Santa Concepcion comes to the Shiva Theatre, also in April. Anne Garcia-Romero's fantasy tells of two sensual sisters and a man who seeks a wife "amidst appetites, miraculous acts, prophets and aphrodisiac soups."
An exciting new development for the theatre is its cabaret space, Joe's Pub. Opening in December, the Pub will offer a Tuesday night Spoken Word series, World Music on Wednesdays, and special events from Thursday Saturday, such as solo performances. Sundays will be dedicated to an "American Composer and Songwriter" series, featuring major cabaret vocalists interpreting American classics. Says Wolfe, "It'll be very eclectic; a space where anything can happen."
And though the Shakespeare Marathon ended this summer, the Public Theatre hasn't stopped paying attention to masterworks of world literature. The first annual "Classic Colloquium," designed to stimulate a discussion on directions for classic theatre in the next century. The first Colloquium will be titled "Speak The Speech: The Language of Shakespeare in Contemporary America."
"Critics and audiences almost always bring some kind of expectations to productions of Shakespeare," said artistic producer and Colloquia co- organizer (with John Dias) Rosemarie Tichler. "Sometimes they're pleased, sometimes disappointed, sometimes enraged, often shaken up. These responses are generally about the play, but more often we have pushed buttons about race, class and gender."
Other events sponsored by the Public include the monthly Free At Three program, offering performances by local artists and discussions by community leaders.
Public Theatre aficionados also won't want to miss the annual Public Theatre Street Fair, "A Block Party For The Arts," happening Sunday, Sept. 21, outside the theatre on Lafayette St. This celebration of community arts runs from noon to 6 PM.
For more information on the Public Theatre season, call (212) 260-2400.