Though he may be forever associated with the ghoulish Gomez of TV's "Addams Family," in recent months John Astin has been giving much of his energy to the theatre. He's been touring a one-man show about Edgar Allan Poe and performed in HMS Pinafore with the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players. Now he'll spend three weekends at Upstate New York's Shadowland Theatre as part of the cast of Bluff, a drama by Chicago-based dramatist Jeffrey Sweet.
Bluff begins when Neal (Shadowland veteran Brendan Patrick Burke) and Emily (Christina Zorich, daughter of Olympia Dukakis and Louis Zorich) break up a gay bashing, fall in love and move in together. All is well until Emily's stepfather, a dental supplies salesman, arrives on the scene. Running Aug. 18-Sept. 3, Bluff co-stars Linda Setzer, John Hinbest and Deb Hiett-Borgia. Jim Glossman directs the play, which had a hit run at Chicago's Victory Gardens Theatre.
Sweet's Flyovers was also a VG hit and continues to look for an Off- Broadway home this fall. Other Sweet plays include The Value of Names and American Enterprise, and he co-edited the "Best Plays" Theatre Yearbook for more than a decade.
Closing the season at Shadowland will be Steve Tesich's The Speed of Darkness, featuring James Wetzel and Brendan Patrick Burke. A drama about a Vietnam veteran staying with his friend's family and discovering that America has only disdain for him, Speed had a brief Broadway run in 1991. Bill Lelbach, artistic director of Shadowlands and director of the show, told Playbill On-Line the show's bad luck on Broadway was not the fault of the script. "Stephen Lang was terrific," Lelbach said, "but another major role was miscast, and they botched a major moment towards the end of the play... Because the show got bad reviews on Broadway, regional theatres didn't want to touch it, but it's a terrific play and one that says more about what America was like at that time than pretty much any other I've seen."
Asked if such a weighty play fits in with audiences' perceptions of what constitutes a "summer theatre," Lelbach said, "Some people make a distinction that you have to cater to a `summer audience,' and do shows to make them happy. We do one or two like that, but we're really more of a regional theatre that compresses its season into five months. We don't do musicals, and we do shows like Darkness and Bluff and Keely and Du." With its wrap-around, semi-thrust configuration, Shadowland can hold anywhere from 120-148 seats. As for the theatre's current production, slamming doors, disrobing men and women, sheiks, burglars, and a reappearing plate of sardines are all part of the mix of Michael Frayn's Noises Off, running July 21-Aug. 13.
Noises is set on the set of Nothing On, an English farce. Using the play within-the-play formula, this play shows us the wild antics backstage during rehearsal and production, which becomes more funny than the farce itself. Opening on Broadway Dec. 12, 1983 at the Brooks Atkinson, the hit farce enjoyed a 553 performance run.
For this mounting, Shadowland artistic director Lelbach takes on the double directorial duty as well as set design. Lights provided by designer John Wade. The cast includes Lisa Altomare, Barbara Eaker, Meg Brooker, Lori Rohr, Brendan Burke, Sean Marrinan, John Michalski, Ken Rich, and William Spindler.
Noises, by Tony-winner Frayn (Copenhagen), followed the season opener, Visiting Mr. Green and Domestic Tranquility.
To purchase tickets ($13-$18) to Shadowland plays, call the box office, 157 Canal Street, Ellenville, NY, at (914) 647-5511. For more information on the show, the theatre, or tickets visit the website at www.shadowlandtheatre.org.
-- by David Lefkowitz
and Ernio Hernandez