He's no Perfect Stranger to Second Stage Theatre. Actor Mark Linn-Baker, best known for his years on TV's "Perfect Strangers" and work in filmdom's "My Favorite Year" will have a behind-the-scenes role Off Broadway this season. He's been tapped by Second Stage artistic director Carole Rothman to oversee the company while she takes a half-year vacation, starting January 2001.
A co-founder of New York Stage and Film, Linn-Baker was last seen OB in Chesapeake (a commercial production at the Second Stage space) and had recent Broadway roles in A Flea in Her Ear and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. A Second Stage spokesperson at the Richard Kornberg press office didn't know whether Linn-Baker would be choosing any shows for the following season or simply overseeing the Jan-Aug. 2001 slate chosen by Rothman.
Linn-Baker will be directing one show this season, however: a musical comedy by Willie Reale (book and lyrics) and Robert Reale (music) titled Once Around The City. Targeting previews June 12, 2001, City takes place in the money-driven Reagan era and pits a Yuppie real estate agent against an advocate for the homeless. Jennifer Muller choreographs.
Currently, Second Stage is enjoying critical plaudits and strong box office for its last show of the 1999-2001 season, Jitney. The company's much-acclaimed production of August Wilson's drama, which was scheduled to run to Sept. 3 at Second Stage, will add an extra week there and close Sept. 10, followed by a move to the Union Square Theatre, with performances starting again Sept. 19. Earlier this week, the Union Square's current tenant, The Laramie Project, announced its intention to close Sept. 2. Meanwhile, the extended run of Jitney was long set to close at summer's end to make way for the new Second Stage season. Even before the latter show opened, Center Theatre Group and producer Ben Mordecai, in association with Second Stage, knew they had the right either to move the show or keep it at Second Stage until early fall.
Now, according to the Richard Kornberg press office, Jitney will go from a 299-seat house to a 499-seat space -- a real show of confidence in a play that's already been running for four months in midtown.
Lauded by the New York Drama Critics Circle as the Best Play of the year, Jitney received unanimously strong reviews and won a special, non competitive award from the Drama Desk for Outstanding Ensemble Performance. The show was originally supposed to run through May 21 and then extended through July 16. Jitney started previews April 8 and opened April 25.
Prior to New York, Jitney began subscription previews Jan. 23 at the Mark Taper Forum and opened there Feb. 3 for a run through March 19.
Directed by Marion McClinton, the cast of Jitney includes (in alphabetic order), Russell Andrews, Willis Burks II, Paul Butler, Anthony Chisholm, Leo V. Finnie III, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Barry Shabaka Henley, Keith Randolph Smith and Nichole Briana White. Original cast member Carl Lumbly left the show last week and was replaced by Henderson; Andrews came into the show in late June, replacing original cast-member Russell Hornsby.
The first play written by Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Wilson, Jitney offers a look into 1970s Pittsburgh and the lives of a group of black men scraping out a living in a gypsy cab company (or jitney station). The play's central character, Charles Becker, is the owner of the unlicensed company who must deal with the city's plan to board up his business. He's also thrown by his the return of his son, Booster (Lumbly), after 20 years in prison. Other Wilson works include Two Trains Running, Seven Guitars and Fences.
For tickets ($51) and information on Jitney at Second Stage Theatre, 307 West 43rd Street, call (212) 246-4422.
In further Second Stage news, three veteran dramatists are earmarked for the company's 2000-01 season. Revivals of Edward Albee's Tiny Alice and Beth Henley's Pulitzer-winning Crimes of the Heart are on the schedule, as is Cellini, a new play by John Patrick Shanley.
Though Cellini is a new and therefore untested work (about Renaissance sculptor Benvenuto Cellini and his attempt to make great art while pleasing his benefactor, Pope Clement VII), Tiny Alice may be the company's riskiest choice, as it's been on the New York runway for nearly two seasons. Back in August 1998, producers Elizabeth McCann and Daryl Roth were planning to revive Albee's complex 1965 drama on Broadway. They had a director, Mark Lamos, and a star, Richard Thomas, who appeared in the show's hit revival at CT's Hartford Stage earlier that year. A female lead proved harder to find, however, and the production never materialized.
Lamos and Thomas are still connected to the project, though, and it's scheduled for the first slot in the Second Stage season. Previews begin Nov. 16, with an opening targeted for early December. Thomas plays the lead role of Brother Julian, a man of the church seduced by Alice's sexuality and wealth. The original production of Tiny Alice was presented on Broadway in December 1965, with John Gielgud and Irene Worth under the direction of Alan Schneider.
In June 1998, actor Thomas won Boston's Elliot Norton Lifetime Achievement Award. He's a Hartford Stage veteran and had previously played Hamlet and Peer Gynt there. Broadway credits include The Fifth of July and Strange Interlude, though Thomas remains best known for playing John-Boy on TV's "The Waltons."
Albee has been enjoying a renaissance since 1994 when his Three Tall Woman won him his third Pulitzer Prize. His Delicate Balance got a Tony-winning revival on Broadway; his Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf had an award-winning London remounting in 1996.
Cellini, with author Shanley also directing, is scheduled to start previews Jan. 23, 2001. No word on casting yet for the show, which is being co-produced by CA's Mark Taper Forum.
As for Crimes of the Heart, scheduled to start previews April 3, 2001, Henley's play about kooky Southern sisters has remained a staple of regional and community playhouses. More recent plays have included the poorly-received Family Week this season and last year's Impossible Marriage at the Roundabout. Other Henley works include The Wake of Jamey Foster (on Broadway in 1982) and The Miss Firecracker Contest. The surprising news here is that Garry Hynes, Tony-winning director of The Beauty Queen of Leenane, will helm the 1981 show.
The season's final show will be the aforementioned musical, Once Around the City.
For ticket and subscription information call Second Stage Theatre at (212) 787-5600.
-- By David Lefkowitz