Donna Murphy has been little seen on stage since winning back-to-back Tony Awards for Passion and The King and I in the mid-90s. Many thought her next role would be in the long-planned Broadway revival of Wonderful Town, a show she starred in at Encores! But, in a surprise twist, she has emerged as the title character in Helen by Ellen McLaughlin, the next show due at the Public Theater.
The drama was originally scheduled to run Feb. 26-March 31 at the LuEsther Theater but shifted its schedule a bit, owing to the recent illness of a cast member. Helen is now slated to begin March 19 at the Martinson Theatre for an opening there April 8. The revised dates could have been even a little earlier, a Public Theatre spokesperson told Playbill On-Line (Feb. 11), but the company didn’t want the hassle of two shows going into tech at the same time (36 Views starts previews at the Newman Theatre March 12.)
The cast also includes Johanna Day as Io, Phylicia Rashad as Athena and Denis O'Hare as Menalaus, "Helen's Wife." Mary Louise Wilson was originally scheduled to play the Servant, but owing to a scheduling conflict with the new dates, she's stepped out and The Play About the Baby's Marian Seldes has stepped in.
The play concerns a favorite subject of McLaughlin's: the Battle of Troy. An earlier play, Iphigenia and Other Daughters, which played Off Broadway's CSC, was a post-modern look at Agamemnon's wife and his daughters, including the title character, who was sacrificed to the gods so that Agamemnon's forces might sail to and engage rival Troy. Helen, is about the woman whose face launched those one thousand ships in the first place. In McLaughlin's world, however, Murphy will play a woman not of Troy, but Cairo, downing protein shakes and having facials. Day recently left the cast of Proof on Broadway, while Rashad was seen Off-Broadway last year in Blue and O'Hare last performed in Major Barbara. The latter two were both Roundabout Theatre Company productions.
Kushner's Homebody/Kabul, is now at New York Theatre Workshop. Helen will be his NYC directing debut.
In other Public news, Naomi Iizuka's 36 Views begins performances at the Newman Theatre on March 12. The show is a co-production with Berkeley Repertory Theatre, where 36 Views played last fall. Mark Wing Davey, a Public favorite, directed the Berkeley show and will repeat his duties in Manhattan. A spokesperson for the Public, said the theatre may retain much of the California cast, which included Ebon Moss Bachrach, Elaine Tse, Bill Camp, Peter Donat, Liana Pai, Rebecca Winsocky.
In the drama, a mysterious one-of-a-kind Japanese pillow book is discovered, setting the field of Asian antiquity on its ear. Behind the scenes, art restorer Claire (Tse) and an antique dealer's assistant John (Moss-Bachrach) become caught up in their own lies and deceptions as the alleged pillow book subtly reveals contradictions in their lives.
Iizuka is also the author of Polaroid Stories, Aloha, Say the Pretty Girls and The Languages of Angels.
The Public's Elaine Stritch at Liberty opened on Broadway this month after a sold-out Off-Broadway run.