David Henry Hwang, Tony-winning author of M. Butterfly, has tackled Henrik Ibsen's Norwegian adventure epic Peer Gynt. His adaptation premieres at Rhode Island's Trinity Repertory Company Feb. 4, after beginning previews Jan. 30.
Peer Gynt is such an epic, sprawling work, few theatre companies attempt it. Recent examples have included a celebrated mounting starring Richard Thomas at Hartford Stage Company, and Ingmar Bergman's staging imported by the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Both Hwang and Swiss director Stephan Muller have been working on tightening the pace and updating the play's language. The play's scope will stay big, however, employing more than a dozen Trinity Rep conservatory students and an expansive set by Eugene Lee. Contemporary music -- from Frank Sinatra to Sinead O'Connor -- will complement the sight-gags, as will original music by Richard Cumming. Paula Hunter choreographs.
Gynt is basically a bumbling bounder, making his way across the world through a series of adventures with trolls, harems and madmen who crown him king. As Gynt grows from an exuberant youth to a cold, selfish older man, he tries to hang on to the love he holds for the pure Solveig.
Two actors will play Gynt in the Trinity production: Fred Sullivan Jr. (Younger) and Timothy Crowe (older). Joining him are Kevin Fallon, Robert Grady, Mauro Hantman, Brian McEleney, Barbara Orson, Melinda Pinto, Rebecca Poole, Cynthia Strickland, Liesl Tommy and Robert J. Colonna, who played the Troll King in the Rep's 1975 staging of Gynt and reprises that role here. Designing the show alongside Lee are Roger Morgan (lighting) and William Lane (costumes).
The wild, picaresque tale will be part of Trinity Rep's 34th season, the fourth under artistic director Oskar Eustis. On the sad side, the company is losing its managing director of four years, Pat Egan. She's leaving in June because the company is embarking upon a major, five-year fundraising drive, and she's not sure she can commit nearly a decade of her professional life to the campaign. Buff Chace, chairman of the Trinity Board, has appointed a search committee to come up with a new managing director. Replacing Egan won't be easy, since she balanced the company's books (which were in serious debt when she arrived) and helped raise the annual budget from $3.2 to $4.5 million.
In related news, Trinity just got a $100,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support "artistic staffing and new play development." The two-year grant will go to acting fellowships, commission new works and hire a full-time resident director.
Directors and casts have still to be set, but here's the line-up of productions for the rest of Trinity Rep's season:
* Kathleen Tolan's play, A Girl's Life, Feb. 27-March 22.
* Avner the Eccentric, March 12-16
Special appearance by Avner Eisenberg, touring with his mime show, Exceptions to Gravity.
* Marlane Meyer's play, The Chemistry Of Change, April 3-26.
* Meredith Willson's musical, The Music Man (April 24-May 31). When salesman/con-man Harold Hill arrives at a small town, he easily dupes the citizens into buying band uniforms but doesn't count on the resistance he receives from Marian, a bookish librarian. Songs in the 1957 smash include "Till There Was You," "Seventy-Six Trombones" and "Gary, Indiana."
Said artistic director Eustis, who will stage the piece, "The Music Man is about art created without experts. From the Charleston to the Lindy Hop to break-dancing to hip-hop, from barbershop quartets to doo wop, from jazz to rock -- America's indigenous art forms have all sprung from the streets, from people without experts creating their own culture." Eustis w ill work with local high school bands and barbershop singing groups in developing the show.
* Paula Vogel's How I Learned To Drive. Awards keep accruing for this tragicomic story of a young girl's unhealthy relationship with her alcoholic uncle. (The most recent was Trinity Rep's own Pell Award for outstanding contribution to the arts by a Rhode Island resident.) The play is currently Off-Broadway at the Century Center Theatre in a Vineyard Theatre production. (May-June)
"The...season is an exciting blend of well-loved classics and the best and newest of the American theatre," artistic director Eustis has said. Not only is Trinity Rep excited about the current season, the theatre's proud of the year gone by: Single ticket sales increased by more than 30 percent, with subscription income rising 11 percent to nearly $1 million. This helped balance the theatre's budget by the June 30 end of fiscal.
Also new is an alliance with the cafe/gallery/performance space AS220, wherein college students can see a Trinity Rep show and the AS220 comedy troupe "Improv Jones," all for just $10. It's a way to encourage college students to become more involved with local theatre.
For information on Trinity Rep's 34th season (subscriptions start at $48) , call the Providence-based theatre at (401) 351-4242.
-- By David Lefkowitz