The 37-play Shakespeare Marathon that Joe Papp initiated a decade ago just came to an end earlier this summer with a presentation of The Bard's seldom-seen last opus, Henry VIII. Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Tony winner for Seven Guitars, had the title role, but the play truly belongs to Wife No. One, Katherine, played by Jayne Atkinson (in real life: wife of playwright John Patrick Shanley). In the happiest of coincidences, it opened on what would have been Papp's 76th birthday, so a party was thrown by his successor, George C. Wolfe, in Belvedere Castle overlooking the Delacorte Theatre. The cake read: "Mission Accomplished Happy Birthday, Joe." . . . Matthew Broderick has staked out his own Horton Foote character "Brother Vaughn" and played him onstage and screen, as recently as January in Chapel Hill, where the character came kinda unhinged from family pressures in The Death of Papa, one of the later offerings in Foote's interrelated "Orphan's Home" cycle of plays. Ellen Burstyn, Polly Holliday and the author's daughter, Hallie Foote, appeared with him in the North Carolina production, and he expects they all will reprise the piece Off-Broadway before year's end. For a while last season, the clan was represented on Broadway: The character William Biff McGuire played in The Young Man From Atlanta was the widower of the character Holliday played in The Death of Papa.
An entire season of Arthur Miller plays, old and new, has prompted the nomadic Signature Theatre Company to set down roots on West 42nd Street (very West: 555). Eric Krebs conceived the theatre and is currently constructing it. . . . Another relatively young theatre company, the Drama Dept., is also flying high. Fresh from its much-applauded, prize-winning revival of June Moon, the group set up a new series of critical cheers with an original work a comedy about a chameleon who absorbs her identities from the silver screen, As Bees in Honey Drown. Author is the company's artistic director, Douglas Carter Beane, and the director is Off-Broadway's hot-young-firebrand-of-the-moment, Mark (How I Learned To Drive, This Is Our Youth) Brokaw. The consensus was that both Honey and Moon deserve longer than the limited runs allotted them, and Honey has already moved to the Lucille Lortel for an opened-ended stay. . . . The New Group is so conditioned to sending its productions into open-ended runs Mike Leigh's Ecstasy in 1994, Stephen Bill's Curtains in 1995 and Kenneth Lonergan's This Is Our Youth in October that it has started casting its opuses accordingly. Its transplant-ing of Kevin Elyot's 1994 London hit, My Night With Reg, toplined Maxwell Caulfield, Edward Hibbert, Sam Trammell, Ron Bagden, David Cale and Joseph Siravo all under the direction of Jack (The Elephant Man) Hofsiss. The British version won the Evening Standard's prize for Best Play and the Olivier for Best Comedy.-- By Harry Haun