Grant Show, seen off-Broadway in Wit and best known for his years on TV's "Melrose Place," will play Al in Duke University's staging of Birdy by Naomi Wallace, March 7-19. Wallace Acton will play the title character in the drama, which has hopes of flying into a Broadway theatre this spring. Acton received a 1996 Helen Hayes Award for his work in a Washington DC mounting of Henry VI.
Bryan Richards (younger Al), Robert Hogan (Dr. Weiss), Michael Pitt (Younger Birdy) and Teagle Bougere (Renaldi) comprise the remaining Duke cast. Pitt played Henry on TV's "Dawson's Creek," Bougere appeared in the Patrick Stewart Tempest on Broadway a few seasons back.
As reported by Theatrical Index, Spring Sirkin and Benjamin Mordecai are co-producing the play, based on William Wharton's off-beat novel. Kevin Knight, who directed the acclaimed 1997 London premiere of Birdy, also staged the U.S. premiere at Philadelphia Theatre Company in June 1998 and is slated to direct the Broadway mounting.
In early October 1999, a production spokesperson at the Bill Evans office confirmed that the show would have its brief tryout at the Reynolds Industrial Theatre of Duke University in Durham, NC.
As with the Alan Parker film, Birdy is set in Philadelphia, just after World War II. Moving freely between the present and the past, it examines the friendship between the sensitive Birdy, obsessed with birds, and Al, obsessed with body-building, and their struggle with identity in an unaccepting, rigid society. The play calls for six actors: as Birdy and his friend Al, in both teen and adult years, a hospital orderly and an army psychiatrist. The novel is written as a series of monologues for two voices, one (in italics) from Birdy explaining how he became so entranced by raising canaries and watching them fly; the other from Al, brutalized by his dad and injured in the war but hoping to get his buddy out of the army's psychiatric ward. Wallace's previous plays include One Flea Spare, Slaughter City, In the Heart of America and The War Boys.
Asked about the Duke University-Broadway connection, the theatre department's managing director, Zannie Voss, told Playbill On-Line (Oct. 6), "Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Duke premiered a number of shows (mainly via producer Emanuel Azenberg) that were on their way to Broadway. Over the last five years, we've been working with Ford's Theatre in DC. We co-produced the musical Kudzu and, last year, the Jonathan Bolt, Thomas Tierney and John Forster musical Eleanor, about Eleanor Roosevelt. This is the first time in five years we've worked with a commercial producer."
Johnson-Liff Associates, in New York, is casting the show. Voss noted that although Duke University students might intern on the production (e.g., assistant director, assistant designer), the show has a full Equity cast, rather than students. Capitalization for the Duke mounting is projected at $200,000, with running costs bringing the run to the $330,000 range. Director Knight (set), Jane Greenwood (costumes) and Brian Nason (lighting), who designed the show in London, will repeat their work, according to general manager Roger Alan Gindi.
Philadelphia Theatre Company producing artistic director Sara Garonzik told Playbill On-Line that PTC would be credited for staging Birdy's American premiere and would have some financial piece of the New York staging but would not be creatively involved in this separate mounting. "We were tipped off that things were afoot," Garonzik said, when we received a call regarding immigration papers for Kevin Knight."
Asked if Duke will get a piece of the New York pie, Voss said, "We're still in negotiations on the financial end, though we'll certainly continue to get recognition for our production when it comes to New York."
In fall 1999, general manager Gindi said Birdy is scheduled to begin previews March 28, 2000 and open in early April 2000 at a theatre to be announced. He expected "name players" for the cast but couldn't yet say when casting would be completed or provide figures on capitalization. He did say the project, which was initiated by producer Sirkin, "almost came in last season but it didn't work out. Now we can do it."
-- By David Lefkowitz