Reviews weren't kind, but ticket sales boomed for the star-power of Macbeth, a NY Shakespeare Festival/Public Theatre mounting by artistic director George C. Wolfe. Now's your last chance to catch Alec Baldwin and Angela Bassett in the bloody thriller, which opened Mar. 15 and ends its scheduled engagement Mar. 29. It's the first post Marathon William Shakespeare work done at the theatre.
Film actor Alec Baldwin, who has appeared on stage in Prelude to a Kiss and A Streetcar Named Desire, plays the title role. Bassett starred in the Tina Turner biopic, What's Love Got To Do With It?. She did Henry IV - Part I at the Public, directed by Joseph Papp in 1987 and also played Martha in Joe Turner's Come And Gone (1988).
Back in July 1996, Esquire magazine selected Angela Bassett as part of a special tribute ("Women Esquire Loves"). As reported by Newsday's Liz Smith, George C. Wolfe wrote this of Bassett: "I must admit that every time I see her on screen, it only makes me long for her to return to the stage. Maggie the Cat, Lady Macbeth, Cleopatra...Hedda Gabler, Medea -- They all have the gifted Miss Bassett's name on them, as does the new play I'm working on called, "Angela, Come Home."'
Wolfe sees the production of Macbeth 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."
Naturally this is only a supersitition... however, it is true that director Wolfe suffered some recent bad luck on his other 1997 project, On The Town, which had to postpone its spring Broadway move to the fall because of an artistic falling-out with choreographer Christopher D'Amboise.
Also appearing in the NYSF Macbeth are LaTonya Borsay, Zach Braff, Adam Danheisser, Michael Hall, Jason Butler Harner, Nathan Hinton, Anil Kumar, Adam Lamberg, Dan Moran, Midori Nakamura, Jeffrey Nordling, Greg Porretta, Liev Schreiber and Rocco Sisto. Designing the show are Riccardo Hernandez (set), Toni-Leslie James (costumes), Scott Zielinsky (lighting) and Kurt Fischer (sound).
In other NYSF/Public Theatre news, you know spring has sprung when the New York Shakespeare Festival announces its roster for shows at Central Park's outdoor Delacorte Theatre. As reported in the NY Times (Mar. 27), this year's summer entries will be a revival of Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer winning The Skin of Our Teeth (no, not the musical version Kander & Ebb are currently working on), followed by Andrei Serban's mounting of Shakespeare's Cymbeline.
Skin which tells of a family facing the end of the world -- with pet dinosaurs intact -- will star Kristen Johnson of TV's "Third Rock From The Sun" (as Sabina) and Frances Conroy (Lincoln Center's The Little Foxes). A spokesperson for the Public Theatre told Playbill On-Line (Mar. 27) that more names would be announced for the Skin cast in the New York Times next Friday (Apr. 3).
Irene Lewis, artistic director of Baltimore MD's Center Stage, will direct, the piece, running June 12- July 12.
Little information is currently available on Cymbeline, which starts previews at the end of July.
Currently at the Public is The Cripple of Inishmaan, by the author of the current Off-to-on Broadway smash, The Beauty Queen of Leenane. Martin McDonagh's Cripple hasn't even opened yet (Apr. 7), but already it's extended its run past an Apr. 19 close to May 10.
The Cripple Of Inishmaan is directed by Jerry Zaks (A Funny Thing...Forum). Nicholas Hytner (Carousel, The Madness Of King George) was originally scheduled to direct as he did in London, but he's just finished shooting the Wendy Wasserstein-scripted film, The Object Of My Affection and is concentrating on editing/post production.
In the UK, Inishmaan, 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.
In further Public Theatre news, from the co-author of Floyd Collins comes Saturn Returns: A Concert, which started previews Mar. 24. This song cycle, directed by Tina Landau (Stonewall, Night Variations at En Garde Arts), opens Apr. 9 for a run through Apr. 26 (already extended from Apr. 12).
On the smaller stages of the Public, two shows recently flip-flopped their dates: Everybody's Ruby and Santa Concepcion.
The playful and erotic Santa Concepcion comes to the Shiva Theatre, Apr. 9-19. Under Susanna Tubert's direction, 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."
Starring are Maria Cellario, Divina Cook, Al Espinosa, Mateo Gomez, Zabryna Guevara, and Maricela Ochoa (as Aurora).
Following and already sold-out (May 7-17) 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. Roberta Levitow directs Ruby.
As for next season at NYSF, rehearsals will get underway in August for On the Town, to open at a Broadway house in October. Artistic director Wolfe will again direct as he did at the Delacorte, though no choreographer has yet been chosen. Casting has not yet been announced. No plans have yet been made for the remaining 1998-99 season at the Public.
A dispute between director Wolfe and choreographer Christopher d'Amboise was blamed for postponing the planned Broadway transfer of the successful summer 1997 Central Park revival of On the Town, The New York Times reported Jan. 12.
The production, which was announcing casting as late as Jan. 6, was to have started rehearsals Feb. 24 and previews Apr. 7 at the St. James Theatre. The Times quoted a spokesperson for The Public Theatre, the revival's primary producer, as saying the production has been postponed until the fall 1998, presumably with a different choreographer.
The spokesperson said d'Amboise left the project owing to "genuine creative differences concerning the dance sequences that could not be resolved," between Wolfe and d'Amboise.
Choreographic problems have dogged this revival of the nearly through danced 1944 Leonard Bernstein/ Betty Comden/ Adolph Green musical, which grew from the Jerome Robbins ballet, "Fancy Free." Several times during the 1997 Delacorte Theatre engagement, condensation on the outdoor stage required choreographer Eliot Feld's dance sequences to be dropped in mid performance. Though the revival generally got excellent reviews, especially for comedienne Lea DeLaria as the randy cab driver, Feld's work was seriously questioned, and he withdrew from the Broadway transfer. Now d'Amboise has done the same, and a new choreographer will have to be found.
The Public Theatre announced Jan. 6 that DeLaria would recreate her performance on Broadway this spring. No word yet on whether she will keep herself available until the fall. The $5.7 million musical will open in late September or early October, the Times reported. The production was considered one of the strongest contenders for the 1998 Best Revival of a Musical Tony Award. Town's postponement left the field to Cabaret, 1776 and The Sound of Music.
For more information on shows at NYSF/the Public Theatre call (212) 260-2400.
-- By David Lefkowitz