Gurney and Laurents Premieres to Reach NJ's George Street in 2000-01

News   Gurney and Laurents Premieres to Reach NJ's George Street in 2000-01 New Jersey's George Street Theatre isn't kidding about its commitment to developing and producing new plays. The company recently named George Ryan as artistic associate to help manage the literary department, and the theatre's newly-announced 2000-01 season line-up features three world premieres. In announcing the new slate, artistic director David Saint noted that his past two seasons included premieres by Anne Meara (Down the Garden Paths), Allan Knee (Syncopation) and Arthur Laurents (Jolson Sings Again). All of which have either tried, or are still trying, to reach New York.

New Jersey's George Street Theatre isn't kidding about its commitment to developing and producing new plays. The company recently named George Ryan as artistic associate to help manage the literary department, and the theatre's newly-announced 2000-01 season line-up features three world premieres. In announcing the new slate, artistic director David Saint noted that his past two seasons included premieres by Anne Meara (Down the Garden Paths), Allan Knee (Syncopation) and Arthur Laurents (Jolson Sings Again). All of which have either tried, or are still trying, to reach New York.

This season, Laurents returns to George Street, not only with a new play, Claudia Lazlo, but as director and adaptor of Jorge Accame's Venecia, having its U.S. premiere. A.R. Gurney, whose Ancestral Voices played at George Street last season, will premiere his Human Events at the theatre in mid-winter.

Here's the full George Street season line-up (as of Aug. 16):

Wit (Oct. 14-Nov. 12). Margaret Edson's Pulitzer-winning drama tells of an icy literary professor who discovers the reason for kindness and human interaction when she's hit with fourth-stage ovarian cancer. Ted Sod directs the piece, which served as a tour-de-force vehicle for both Kathleen Chalfant and Judith Light Off-Broadway.

The Spitfire Grill (Nov. 25-Dec. 24). Based on Lee David Zlotoff's movie, this new musical will be directed by artistic director Saint. The title is the name of a restaurant, where the no-nonsense owner, Hannah, and a former women's prison inmate, Percy, trying to start over develop a friendship -- and a contest. Grill is a collaboration by Fred Alley and James Valcq, with Valcq doing the music, Alley penning the lyrics, and the duo adapting the book. Valcq is best known for writing the book and score for Off-Broadway's Zombies From the Beyond. Alley collaborated with James Kaplan on the Weavers-based revue, Goodnight Irene!, as well as on the regionally-popular Lumberjacks in Love. • Human Events (Jan. 6-Feb. 4, 2001). The latest by the prolific A.R. Gurney is set in a small New England college, where an enthusiastic British teacher tries to revitalize the humanities department. Instead, this racing demon nearly spins it into butter. Artistic director Saint helms this new comedy by the author of The Dining Room, Far East and Sylvia.

Venecia (Feb. 10-March 11, 2001). Argentine playwright Jorge Accame's gentle comedy receives its U.S. premiere, guided by director and adaptor Arthur Laurents. In Venecia, the women of a broken-down brothel all hope for a better life. They get together to help send the oldest, La Vieja, to her dream destination: lovely and haunting Venice.

• TBA (March 17-April 15, 2001). Ethan McSweeny, currently directing Broadway's The Best Man, will stage a show yet to be announced. The young director, a former associate director at the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington DC and who helmed Master Class last season at George Street, has just been named the company's associate artistic director, starting this season.

Claudio Lazlo, (April 21-May 20, 2001). Cigdem Onat, who was featured in the Lincoln Center revival of Arthur Laurents' Time of the Cuckoo last season, will star in his brand new play, to be directed by artistic director Saint. Here, she plays a "domineering, passionate actress" whose tumultuous behavior nearly sabotages her most important role.

As for the George Street "Next Stage" second stage season, look for an expansion of last year's "Diva Project" to arrive May 9-19, 2001. This year, eight performers -- women and men -- will offer solo works in "The Diva and Gentle Men Project," which artistic associate and director of education and outreach Ted Sod is curating.

And plans for the 2001-02 season are also in the nascent stage. Waiting for Tadashi, a play by Velina Hasu Houston that was going to be done this-coming season, will instead arrive a year later. Artistic director Saint is still tentatively slated to direct. Houston had a hit in Los Angeles with her play, Tea. The Kennedy Center honored her for her pieces Asa Ga Kimashita (Morning Has Broken) and The Matsuyama Mirror. Other credits include Kokoro (True Heart), American Dreams, Cultural Lives and Hula Heart. Her Ikebana (Living Flowers) will be produced this fall at CA's Pasadena Playhouse.

Also on tap is the culmination of the Bridge Project, being produced with the Crossroads Theatre (an African-American company next door to George Street) to and L.A.'s Cornerstone Theatre Company. The latter goes into neighborhoods and works with non-performers to create a play that addresses issues affecting the community. We just finished the first year. "It's a huge undertaking," spokesperson Shanks told Playbill On-Line, "involving hundreds, even thousands of people... Their last pieces included The Good Person of New Haven and The Steel Project. The new piece is about New Brunswick, which has strong African-American, Latino, Jewish and Hungarian communities, as well as Rutgers college students and people who've lived here for decades. It's a fascinating process. The working title is `New Brunswick Stories,' and professional playwrights were recently hired to help develop the piece, which we'll produce in 2001-02, possibly as the season opener."

For subscription and ticket information on the George Street Theatre, 9 Livingston Ave. in New Brunswick, call (732) 246-7717.

Regarding New York plans for two Saint-directed works, Anne Meara's Down the Garden Paths and Arthur Laurents' Jolson Sings Again, George Street press rep Gabriel Shanks told Playbill On-Line (Aug. 16) that both are "very much alive" but haven't yet found a Manhattan home. "We get very close to finding an [Off-Broadway] theatre for Garden Paths, but then we don't," said Shanks. George Street would co-produce the Meara play, though the company is not a producer of the Laurents work (Scott Rudin is).

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In other George Street news, as mentioned above, a twelve-year veteran of the New Jersey Theatre Group and former casting assistant and company manager of the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival, George Ryan, has been appointed as artistic associate at the theatre. He'll manage the theatre's literary department as well as assist artistic director David Saint with casting, administration and special programs, such as Scholars On Stage symposia and gallery exhibits.

Ryan began at NJSF in 1985, then moved to New Jersey Theatre Group (later renamed New Jersey Theatre Alliance) three years later, serving there as Director of Information Services and then as Director of Artistic Services.

Said artistic director Saint -- himself a relative newcomer to the Jersey scene -- of his new appointment, "His comprehensive knowledge of the local talent pool will be of enormous benefit to our mission of involving the New Brunswick community in George Street Playhouse..."

Managing Director Michael Stotts added that Ryan helps "strengthen our artistic team," especially as they "focus more and more on the development of new plays."

-- By David Lefkowitz