Kristen Johnston, Brian Murray, Sam Waterston to Star in Summer Much Ado

News   Kristen Johnston, Brian Murray, Sam Waterston to Star in Summer Much Ado Kristen Johnston is Beatrice in the Public Theater's "Shakespeare in the Park" offering this summer, Much Ado About Nothing, directed by David Esbjornson.
Kristen Johnston (with Oliver Platt) in NYSF's Twelfth Night.
Kristen Johnston (with Oliver Platt) in NYSF's Twelfth Night. Photo by Michal Daniel

Joining her at the Delacorte will be Brian Murray as doltish costable Dogberry, Sam Waterston as local lord Leonato, and Elizabeth Waterston (Sam's daughter) as his virginal daughter Hero.

The show's Benedick has not been announced, though talks are currently underway with a star.

Waterston's participation will lend a bit of nostalgia to the production. The actor was one of the Public's mainstays in the '70s, when he was regarded as one of the nation's best classical actors. He starred in the Public's 1975 Broadway staging of Hamlet and as Benedick in it's 1972 Broadway mounting of Much Ado (later commited to television). His other Broadway credits include Abe Lincoln in Illinois, A Walk in the Woods, Benefactors, Lunch Hour, A Doll's House, The Trial of the Catonsville Nine, Hay Fever, Indians, Halfway Up the Tree and Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama’s Hung Up in the Closet and I'm Feeling So Sad. His film credits include "Crimes and Misdemeanors," "Hannah and Her Sisters," "The Great Gatsby" and "Serial Mom." He has been a star of television's "Law & Order" for many years.

Busy former "3rd Rock From the Sun" star Johnston has acted in Central Park in The Skin of Our Teeth and 2002's Twelfth Night. She starred in the Roundabout Theatre Company's 2001 hit production of The Women and is currently playing in the New Group's Off-Broadway revival of Wallace Shawn's Aunt Dan and Lemon.

Murray's most recent roles include Beckett/Albee Off-Broadway, MCC Theatre's production of Anto Howard's Scattergood and the recent Broadway revival of The Crucible. He's currently in Miami in the American premiere of Halpern & Johnson with Hal Linden at Coconut Grove Playhouse. The comedy, set in Messina, concerns a group of soldiers and the impact their arrival has on the town and its residents (particularly the women). While the youthful Hero and Claudio fall in love, eternal bachelor Benedick and headstrong maid Beatrice—who profess to despise one another—rail against the idiocy of romantic alliances between men and women. Meanwhile, the vengeful bastard Don John plots the undoing of Hero and Claudio's union.

Along with Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night's Dream, Much Ado About Nothing has historically proved one of Shakespeare's most popular comedies, both with audiences and actors hungry to play the sharp-tongued hero and heroine. It is also arguably one of the Bard's most timeless plays, as the battle of the sexes has never waned over the centuries.

New York has seen many a Benedick and Beatrice over the years. Much Ado was one of the offerings at the John Street Theatre, Manhattan's first playhouse of note. Legendary American Shakespearean actors of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, E.H. Southern and Julia Marlowe, were known for their interpretations of the roles, playing them on Broadway several times.

John Gielgud and Margaret Leighton brought a production to Times Square in 1959, while Waterston and Kathleen Widdoes topped the bill in a 1972 effort. The most recent Broadway Ado was a Royal Shakespeare Company mounting in 1984 and starred Derek Jacobi and Sinead Cusack. Off Broadway, the Aquila Theatre Company recently staged a successful version set in the swingin' England of the 1960s (with visual references to early James Bond films).

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In other Public news, the 2004-05 season will include a new play by Neil LaBute, This Is How It Goes, about interracial romance.

Previously reported by Playbill On-Line for the coming Public season are Dirty Tricks starring Judith Ivey and Richard III with Peter Dinklage.

As first reported by Playbill On-Line on Nov. 19, 2003, Ivey will star in the John Jeter play, which could go up August or September 2004, according to the actress. No official dates have been announced.

"It deals with [Mitchell] and what happened to her during the Watergate days," said Ivey. Martha Mitchell was one of the most prominent and unpredictable figures involved in the scandal that brought down the Nixon White House. She was the wife of John Mitchell, who ran Nixon's successful 1968 presidential campaign and later became Attorney General. Martha, a wealthy daughter of the south, was known for her quick wit, sense of style and loquaciousness, and the Mitchells became very popular in Washington society.

Everything changed after the Watergate break-in was discovered. Martha believed Nixon was intent on using his Attorney General as a scapegoat. Looking to protect her husband, she defended her husband to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the two young reporters at the Washington Post who broke the Watergate story. Soon, she began calling other reporters, often in the middle of the night.

As the administration grew more and more anxious about Martha's loose cannon behavior, they leaked word to the press that she had a drinking problem. John went so far as to lock his wife in a closet to keep her away from the phone. Martha also maintained that she was once held against her will in a California hotel room and sedated. Mitchell, who was later indicted and jailed, left his wife in 1973, never to see or speak to her again. When he was sentenced in February 1975, he said, "It could have been worse. They could have sentenced me to spend the rest of my life with Martha Mitchell."

Martha Mitchell died a few months later, on May 30, 1975, of myeloma, a virulent bone marrow cancer. Her husband and daughter did not see her before she passed away. She was 57.

Peter Dinklage, the 34-year-old "The Station Agent" actor who stands at 4-foot-6-inches, will play "the character actor's Hamlet," better known as Richard III, at the Public Theater this fall.

Dinklage, for years a fixture in downtown New York theatre, recently became an unlikely film star through the critical success of the independent film "The Station Agent," in which he co-starred with Patricia Clarkson and Bobby Cannavale. He followed up this triumph with a role in Will Ferrell's hit holiday film "Elf."

Producers and playwrights have previously looked past Dinklage's height to take gambles on his often vaunted acting prowess and on-stage charisma. Actor-playwright Patrick Breen cast him in the lead role of his Off-Broadway play Marking. In 2000, he co-starred in the Marc Spitz play, I Wanna Be Adored. Other Off-Broadway credits include "Pericles," Jonathan Marc Sherman's "Hollywood," "Imperfect Love," "A Misty Christmas", and "Saint Stanislaus Outside The House."

On March 8, Dinklage was one of many stars to act in a benefit performance of Neil LaBute's Autobahn.

Peter de Bois directs.

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