PlayMakers Repertory of Chapel Hill, NC, has postponed until next year its originally scheduled production of Six Characters In Search Of An Author in order to present a brand new Horton Foote play, The Death Of Papa, opening Feb. 8, 1997. This world premiere, running Feb. 5 to March 2, stars Matthew Broderick, Ellen Burstyn, Hallie Foote and Polly Holliday. Rehearsals began Jan. 7.
Broderick, who's appeared in several filmed and staged Foote works, wrenched his knee playing racquetball during the first week of rehearsals. After a weekend to see how the knee healed, his doctors decided surgery was in order, because his kneecap had moved to one side of his knee. The same thing had happened to Broderick's other knee ten years earlier.
Production spokesperson Pam O'Connor told Playbill On-Line that Broderick, "was a real trouper. Other actors might have tried to break their contract, but he stuck with the show. He was on crutches for a day or two, and he'll be in a leg brace for the run of the show."
Guest director Michael Wilson stages the show, which is set in Harrison, TX and concludes Foote's nine-play, "The Orphans' Home Cycle."
"I deal with the past a lot," Foote was quoted as saying, "but I don't feel nostalgic about the past. I think if you can't learn from the past, you're in deep trouble. Every day has its problems, and that's really what I'm trying to show." The problems of Papa come when a family deals with their patriarch's unexpected death, and they must struggle to ensure "the future well-being of the family and land."
O'Connor told Playbill On-Line the show came as a surprise to the theatre company. "It was originally supposed to be done at the Alley Theatre, like Young Man From Atlanta, but Matthew Broderick's filming schedule just couldn't fit in. So director Michael Wilson suggested here." The three-sided, thrust-stage playhouse holds five-hundred seats.
O'Connor also said the show was completely sold out. "We even cut off the waiting list at 300 names."
Auditions are being held and O'Connor hopes and expects local actors will be selected as well as those cast from the New York talent pool. "That would be very exciting." Also exciting would be Horton Foote's attendance at the production, which is expected, though dependent upon the eighty year old writer's health at the time.
Foote won the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for his drama, The Young Man From Atlanta, which will come to Broadway this spring starring Shirley Knight and Rip Torn. Foote's other plays include Wharton Dance (1940), The Trip To Bountiful (1953), The Roads To Home (1982) and The Widow Claire (1986). He won the 1962 Oscar for Best Screenplay for his exquisite film adaptation of Harper Lee's "To Kill A Mockingbird."
Matthew Broderick has long been connected with Foote's work. He appeared in the five-part, American Playhouse TV series, "The Story Of A Marriage," and in the Off-Broadway drama, The Widow Claire. He also starred in the Foote films, 1918 and On Valentine's Day. Broderick recently appeared on Broadway with girlfriend Sarah Jessica Parker in How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.
Ellen Burstyn's most recent Broadway appearance was in 1996's Sacrilege. She won the 1975 Best Actress Tony Award for Same Time Next Year and also appeared on Broadway in 84 Charing Cross Road and Shirley Valentine. The first woman to be elected president of Actors Equity Association, Burstyn succeeded Lee Strasberg as co-artistic direc ehe Actor's Studio, her alma mater.
Hallie Foote won the 1994 Best Actress Drama Desk Award for her role in Horton Foote's Talking Pictures and a 1993 Obie for Horton's The Roads To Home. She's also appeared in the Horton Foote dramas, God's Pictures, Night Seasons, Laura Dennis and The Widow Claire.
Though best known as "Flo" on TV's "Alice," Polly Holliday's Broadway credits include 1975's All Over Town and the 1986 revival of Arsenic And Old Lace. She received a Best Actress Tony nomination for her role as Big Mama in the 1990 revival of Tennessee Williams' Cat On A Hot Tin Roof.
Director Wilson graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is the director of Off-Broadway's current Tennessee Williams' show, The Red Devil Battery Sign, starring Elizabeth Ashley.
Costumes for The Death Of Papa are by McKay Coble. The set is by Jeffrey Cowie, the sound by John Gromada.
Following Papa in PlayMakers' season will be Brian Friel's Molly Sweeney (March 12-April 6) and A Little Night Music (April 16 May 18).
For tickets (previews $15-$17; otherwise $18.50-$23) and information on Death at PlayMakers Repertory Company at the University Of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, call (919) 962-PLAY (7529).
-- By David Lefkowitz