Though capturing an OBIE Award for directing, Belgian director Ivo van Hove's 1997 production of More Stately Mansions left some critics in the cold. That didn't stop New York Theatre Workshop from inviting him back to begin their 1999-2000 season to mount one of the greatest plays of the 20th Century: Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, opening Aug. 23.
Van Hove's Streetcar, a hit at his Amsterdam based company, Het Zuidelijk Toneel, will feature an American cast at NYTW, including Elizabeth Marvel as Blanche, Saida Arrika Ekuloma as Eunice, Bruce McKenzie as Stanley, Jenny Bacon as Stella, Christopher Evan Welch as Mitch.
Marvel has become a familiar New York presence, from An American Daughter on Broadway to Silence, Cunning, Exile at the Public. Welch co-starred in Scapin opposite Bill Irwin.
Van Hove is well-known for his physical-based interpretations of American classics by O'Neill and Williams. Streetcar will be the first show of New York Theatre Workshop's 1999-00 season, to be followed by a new three character play from Claudia (Blown Sideways Through Life) Shear. This one will feature Shear as campy actress Mae West, with James Lapine directing. Lapine's credits include staging The Diary of Anne Frank a season ago on Broadway, Into the Woods, and Sunday in the Park with George.
No other shows are on NYTW's official roster, though the theatre has a short list of plays that are "under consideration" for the Spring. They include:
* Tony (Angels in America) Kushner's latest, Home Body/Kabul, is under consideration. The play currently receiving its world premiere in London, is a monologue wherein a restless upper-class British housewife imagines herself being in Afghanistan. Former artistic director of NYC's Classic Stage Company David Esbjornson is currently helming the world premiere. Esbjornson also directed the world premiere of Kushner's Angels in America.
* Jean Marie Bisset's play What You Get and What You Expect.
* Everything That Rises Must Converge, adapted and directed by Karin Coonrod from Flannery O'Connor's short stories. Coonrod recently helmed a workshop of Shakespeare's rarely-performed drama, King John, this June at New York's Theatre for a New Audience. Her most high-profile assignment to date has probably been the mounting of Henry IV, parts I, II and III. The three plays were packaged as two evenings and ran in repertory at the Public Theatre in late 1996. The cast included such Downtown presences as Stephen Skybell, Tom Nelis and Jan Leslie Harding -- many of them veterans of Arden Party, the troupe Coonrod founded in 1987. Arden Party productions Coonrod has directed include Ubu Roi, Lear, Victor and Emperor of the Moon.
Also, as previously announced, the Stephen Sondheim-John Weidman musical Wise Guys will receive a closed workshop at NYTW in October-November. Cabaret's Sam Mendes will direct, with rumored stars Nathan Lane and Victor Garber likely to participate. The workshop is not an official NYTW production.
The producers -- Scott Rudin, Roger Berlind, Dodger Theatricals and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts -- had a secret reading of the script and score April 30. A spokesman for the Gersh Agency's Bill Butler, who reps Garber, said Wise Guys would arrive in New York in late 1999 and that Lane and Garber would head the cast. In past years, both actors have participated in readings of the musical.
Lane's publicist declined to comment. However, Lane told talk show host David Letterman on Dec. 31, 1998 that he would be acting in a new Sondheim piece come fall. Though he did not mention the name of the musical, it is most likely Wise Guys, the vaudeville-style biography of the eccentric brothers Wilson and Addison Mizner, which the composer has been working on for several years. A spokesperson from Sondheim's office declined to comment on the project (Jan. 4).
Wise Guys was commissioned by the Kennedy Center in DC and was originally scheduled to open in fall 1996. Since then, it has been repeatedly postponed, though at least two readings have been done in New York, one on March 27, 1997 featuring Garber as Wilson, the other on Nov. 8, 1997 with Garber as Wilson and Lane as Addison. Also taking part in the November reading were Debra Monk as Mama Mizner plus an ensemble consisting of Ray Wills, Greg Jbara, William Parry and Randy Graff.
The November reading consisted of most of the first act, including an opening number (which actually consists of four songs, one of them called "Wise Guys"), followed by "Benicia," "Gold," "Next to You," "Addison's Trip Around the World," "Dowagers," "The Good Life" and "The Game."
Both readings were produced by Ira Weitzman.
When it finally opens, Wise Guys will be Sondheim's first complete theatre score since Passion in 1994. The longest previous gap between Sondheim stage musical openings was the five years between Do I Hear a Waltz and Company. Sondheim turned 68 in March.
-- By Sean McGrath
and Robert Simonson