Six productions of the Public Theatre's 1997-98 season have now been announced, and several are doozies: Tony Kushner's adaptation of the Jewish classic, A Dybbuk; movie star Alec Baldwin playing Macbeth; Irish playwright Martin McDonagh's smash, The Cripple Of Inishmaan; and Thulani Davis adapting a story by Zora Neale Hurston.
First up (Oct. 28-Nov. 30) will be A Dybbuk, Or, Between Two Worlds, based on S. Ansky's The Dybbuk, which itself was taken from a Russian/Yiddish folktale. According to the Public Theatre's in house magazine, A Dybbuk tells of a Hassidic Rabbi wandering from town to town in search of the woman promised to him before they were born. She's about to marry someone else, but a strange messenger throws everyone's plans into confusion.
Kushner's adaptation was previously staged by Mark Lamos at Hartford Stage Company in CT, Feb. 1995. What's a "dybbuk?" As the messenger says, "There are souls, troubled and dark, without a home or resting place. [They] attempt to enter the body of another person...trying to ascend."
Public Theatre artistic associate Brian Kulick will direct this adaptation of what Kushner calls "the most important play in Yiddish theatre." Says the Angels In America scribe: "[The Dybbuk] addresses many issues I am interested in, my own investigations of and struggles with being Jewish, gender issues, the confrontation between modernity and religious beliefs... The play is...a story of a history of persecution that became the history of the Jews."
Director Kulick explained the subtitle, "Between Two Worlds": [It suggests] the eternal struggle of the material and the mystical. Written during a time of great transition, on the eve of a new century, Ansky's concern seems even more pressing as we reach the millennium's close." *
Up next, Nov. 4-Dec. 7, will be Philip Kan Gotanda's Ballad Of Yachiyo, a lyrical tale of a girl's tragic introduction to adulthood. Sharon Ott directs the drama, which takes place in a Japanese immigrant community of 1919 Hawaii. Ott previously directed the play in 1996 at CA's Berkeley Repertory Theatre and South Coast Rep.
Public Theatre/NY Shakespeare Festival artistic director George C. Wolfe will direct Macbeth, the first post-Marathon William Shakespeare work done at the theatre, scheduled for Feb. 1998. Film actor Alec Baldwin, who has appeared on stage in Prelude to a Kiss and A Streetcar Named Desire, will play the title role in winter 1998. Rehearsals begin in January 1998; Lady Macbeth has not yet been cast.
Wolfe sees the production as an acting showcase for Baldwin. "[He's] a great American actor. He has a strong intelligence and visceral intensity that will combine wonderfully for this character."
Also intriguing Wolfe is the dichotomy of Macbeth being told he's immortal -- and thus, untouchable -- and yet he's warned of an impending death that comes true. And the director will also take a fresh look at the Witches: "There's a cliched image of what they look like, what they represent, that keeps us from really seeing the characters. I'd like to bulldoze that cliche down. Macbeth is a smart man; why would he believe them if they were these `out-there' crazy women?"
Macbeth, the story of a Scottish nobleman who murders his way to the throne with the help of a little supernatural advice, is the focus of intense superstition in the theatrical world. The play is believed to be cursed, and productions -- especially big star productions -- are, coincidentally or not, attended by an unusual number of mishaps.
The last Broadway revival -- starring Christopher Plummer and Glenda Jackson -- went through three directors, a number of designers and support personnel, and had legendary problems with sets and tempers.
Actors will not even speak the name of the play aloud, especially when inside a theatre, preferring to refer to it as "the Scottish play."
[On a personal note, the first time Playbill On-Line used the title in a headline on the home page, our server shut down. If you're reading this now, it's only through the grace of Thanos and Melpomene.]
Opening March 1998 at the Public will be The Cripple Of Inishmaan, to be directed by Nicholas Hytner (Carousel, The Madness Of King George), who also directed the play in London. Martin McDonagh's bawdy dark comedy transferred (April 30) from the Cottesloe to the larger Lyttleton Theatre on the West End for a run through Aug. 31.
Inishmaan concerns the gossiping and infighting of a town so small, a sheep born with no ears constitutes big news. When legendary Hollywood documentary director Robert Flaherty arrives to film his Man Of Aran, the whole town wants to get into the act, none more than 18 year-old "Cripple Billy," who sees the production as his ticket out of Inishmaan.
Starring in the London Inishmaan were Ruaidhri Conroy, Doreen Hepburn, Gary Lydon, Ray McBride, Dearbhla Molloy, Aisling O'Sullivan (Hysteria at the Royal Court), Anita Reeves, John Rogan and Owen Sharpe. Designers for the show were Bob Crowley (set), Mark Henderson (lighting), and Paddy Cunneen (music). No word on whether any of the above will make the transfer to the New York production.
McDonagh's previous play, The Beauty Queen Of Leenane played at London's Royal Court in 1996.
Expected for April 1998 is Everybody's Ruby: Story Of A Murder In Florida, based on the murder of a popular white doctor in 1952 Florida. A married black woman is accused of the crime, setting off tremendous racial agitation.
"I discovered the story in a footnote in a biography of Zora Neale Hurston," said adaptor Thulani Davis. "It was an amazing untold story about sex, race, money and Southern mores. I started out reading the newspaper clips Hurston wrote, and I couldn't answer to my own satisfaction why she didn't write a book about it. It raises questions about who owns a story."
Davis, a journalist and novelist as well as a playwright, is also collaborating with Wolfe and opera composer Anthony Davis (X) on a new opera, Amistad, to premiere at Chicago's Lyric Opera in the months ahead.
The playful and erotic Santa Concepcion comes to the Shiva Theatre, also in April. Anne Garcia-Romero's fantasy tells of two sensual sisters and a man who seeks a wife "amidst appetites, miraculous acts, prophets and aphrodisiac soups."
An exciting new development for the theatre is its cabaret space, Joe's Pub. Opening in December, the Pub will offer a Tuesday night Spoken Word series, World Music on Wednesdays, and special events from Thursday Saturday, such as solo performances. Sundays will be dedicated to an "American Composer and Songwriter" series, featuring major cabaret vocalists interpreting American classics. Says Wolfe, "It'll be very eclectic; a space wher ng can happen."
And though the Shakespeare Marathon ended this summer, the Public Theatre hasn't stopped paying attention to masterworks of world literature. The first annual "Classic Colloquium," designed to stimulate a discussion on directions for classic theatre in the next century. The first Colluquium will be titled "Speak The Speech: The Language of Shakespeare in Contemporary America."
"Critics and audiences almost always bring some kind of expectations to productions of Shakespeare," said artistic producer and Colloquia co organizer (with John Dias) Rosemarie Tichler. "Sometimes they're pleased, sometimes disappointed, sometimes enraged, often shaken up. These responses are generally about the play, but more often we have pushed buttons about race, class and gender."
Other events sponsored by the Public include the monthly Free At Three program, offering performances by local artists and discussions by community leaders.
Public Theatre afficionados also won't want to miss the annual Public Theatre Street Fair, "A Block Party For The Arts," happening Sunday, Sept. 21, outside the theatre on Lafayette St. This celebration of community arts runs from noon to 6 PM.
For more information on the Public Theatre season, call (212) 260-2400.