MTC Finishes Season With Closings of Hot Mouth & Labor Day

News   MTC Finishes Season With Closings of Hot Mouth & Labor Day
 
Finishing up its "Manhattan Music" cabaret series, as well as its second stage season, Manhattan Theatre Club ends its run of the a cappella troupe, "Hot Mouth," July 19. Ending July 22 on the mainstage will be A.R. Gurney's latest comedy, Labor Day.
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Photo by Photo by Sasha Stollman

Finishing up its "Manhattan Music" cabaret series, as well as its second stage season, Manhattan Theatre Club ends its run of the a cappella troupe, "Hot Mouth," July 19. Ending July 22 on the mainstage will be A.R. Gurney's latest comedy, Labor Day.

The hip Hot Mouth came to attention for its well-received performance last year at the Foundry. According to the company spokesperson,the singers' styles range from "jazz to field hollers to funk to Yoruba chants."

"Hot Mouth," which opened June 30, caps a trio of cabaret performances, each running three weeks (from May 19-July 19). Previous performers were Mary Cleere Haran (May 19-June 7) and Chicago's James Naughton (June 9-28).

Playwright Gurney, an associate artist at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre, premiered Labor Day there in February-March. A sequel of sorts to Gurney's 1988 The Cocktail Hour, Labor Day revisits its main character, John. Gurney's other plays include Sylvia, Love Letters and The Middle Ages.

As it was in San Diego, Labor Day is directed by Old Globe artistic director Jack O'Brien. At the Old Globe and in NY, Labor Day features Josef Sommer (Whose Life Is It Anyway?, The Trial Of The Catonsville Nine, Spokesong) and Joyce Van Patten (Jake's Women, Rumors, The Supporting Cast). Also in the cast are Veanne Cox, recently Off-Broadway in The Batting Cage, Brooks Ashmanskas (Dream) and James Colby (NYSF's Blade To The Heat). Designing the show are Kenneth Posner (lighting), Jeff Ladman (sound), Ralph Funicello (set) and Michael Krass (costumes).

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One MTC production scheduled to run through the summer is Power Plays, a slate of one-acts by Elaine May and Alan Arkin, directed by Arkin. Though produced by Manhattan Theatre Club, the show runs at the Promenade Theatre.

For tickets and information on MTC productions call (212) 581-1212. *

The company's 1998-99 season is also taking shape. Two of the five plays scheduled won't come as news to most MTC watchers. On the docket are Terrence McNally's long-long-awaited Corpus Christi, postponed for two consecutive seasons because it wasn't ready, then cancelled and reinstated this season because of right-wing death threats; and the new musical Captains Courageous, which had been on tap for 1997-98 until a decision was made to hold off and replace it with A.R. Gurney's Labor Day.

As reported by the New York Times (June 19) and confirmed by MTC, Captains Courageous is gearing up for a late fall/early winter production which will star Treat Williams, best known for his film work in Hair and Prince of the City. Williams appeared Off Broadway in Oleanna in 1993, replacing William H. Macy, and on Broadway in Love Letters, opposite Kate Nelligan.

Mandy Patinkin took part in a reading of the musical in October 1996, and then told reporters at the 1997 Tony Awards he was interested in starring, but he hasn't been with the project for months. (This summer he'll be doing his "Mamaloshen" revue of Jewish/Yiddish songs at the Angel Orensanz Foundation on NY's Lower East Side.)

Captains Courageous, which has music by Frederick Freyer and book & lyrics by Patrick Cook, was anticipated for a May-June world premiere. Continuing in the tradition of bringing literary classics to musical theatre (Jekyll & Hyde, Jane Eyre), this new musical is based on Rudyard Kipling's adventure novel of a young boy on the high seas.

It's the story of Harvey Cheyne, spoiled son of a wealthy industrialist, who falls overboard and is rescued by working-class Portuguese sailors. The musical, which also uses the John Lee Mahin, Marc Connelly & Dale van Every film as its source, was presented previously at Goodspeed Opera House's Norma Terris Theatre in Chester, CT.

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As for Corpus Christi, that embattled show is back on MTC's fall schedule. Saying they were outraged by accusations of censorship, Manhattan Theatre Club restored the play, which is reportedly about a gay Jesus-like figure.

The announcement -- made at a late-afternoon press conference May 28 at New York City Center, the company's base -- capped a wild week in which MTC responded to death threats by withdrawing the play from its schedule, and subsequently drew fire from an angry theatre community.

"In the face of these accusations, we took steps to further evaluate what has always been the only issue for us: safety and security," said Lynne Meadow, MTC's artistic director. "Within the last 24 hours, we have been in contact with New York City Police Commissioner Howard Safir and his Intelligence Division which have been overwhelmingly supportive in stepping in to aid our endeavors and to give us the reasonable assurances we need to produce this play responsibly and safely."

Earlier in the day May 28 Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's office issued a statement, reading "Although the mayor doesn't agree with the tone of the play, threats of violence in New York City will not be tolerated."

No dates or cast have been announced for the planned fall 1998 production.

Grove also read from a statement by playwright Athol Fugard, who said "I have boundless admiration for Lynne Meadow's courage and would be absolutely delighted to bring back my play The Captain's Tiger to the Manhattan Theatre Club." Fugard had responded to the removal of Corpus Christi by withdrawing on May 26 his own play, which had been slated for the company's upcoming season.

A grave Meadows said the theatre had been outraged by accusations from the theatre community that MTC had stooped to censorship. "In our 25-year history, we have never censored a play or turned down a play because of content." She then played a grainy tape of one of the death threats the theatre had received. The scratchy, hoarse voice on the tape said, in part, "This message is for Jew, guilty, homosexual Terrence McNally. Because of you we will exterminate every member of the theatre and burn the place to the ground. Death to Jews worldwide." The man said he spoke for something called the National Security Organization.

Grove would not elaborate on the sort of security measures that might be set up at the Off-Broadway theatre's 55th Street performing space, saying "We cannot nor will not later announce any specific security measures." He added that security was indeed in place during the press conference as well.

Corpus Christi had been slated for a fall production at MTC when a story on the play appeared in the New York Post. The article quoted an unnamed source who had attended a reading of the work and claimed the play featured a gay Jesus-like figure. McNally and MTC were subsequently attacked by The Catholic League, a right-wing religious group, which demanded McNally revise the play. Upon receiving no reply, the league began a campaign to halt government funding of MTC.

After weeks of silence, the theatre suddenly withdrew the play May 22, citing "security" reasons, later revealed to be threats of violence against the theatre and McNally. Far from solving the company's problems, however, the move infuriated the playwriting community. The most dramatic result was South African playwright Fugard's decree that he would withdraw his new play The Captain's Tiger from MTC's 1998 99 roster. Other playwrights also voiced their indignation, among them Tony Kushner, Craig Lucas, Marsha Norman, Lanford Wilson, Wendy Wasserstein, and Larry Kramer. Many signed a petition calling for MTC to restore the play. Since then, other theatres across the country have expressed interest in producing the play.

A Playbill On-Line reader present at an MTC-hosted reading of the play wrote to say, "I just want to drop a line about how disturbed I am by the cancellation of Corpus Christi at the MTC. It is one of Terrence's most beautifully written plays and I find it a shame that those who wish to censor artistic expression will make it impossible for the theatrical community to see this work. I think the overall spirit of this work and my own personal feelings about the piece can be spoken for in this quote from the play: `Maybe other people have told His story better. Other actors. This is our way. If we have offended, so be it. He belongs to us as well as you.' "

The words "Corpus Christi" are Latin for "Body of Christ."

McNally was not present as the press conference. Meadow said she had spoken with the playwright the night before and that he was "delighted" with the theatre's decision. Neither Grove nor Meadow would comment on the content of the play, saying it was still in progress.

In addition to winning the 1996 Tony Award for Best Play (Love! Valour! Compassion!), McNally won the 1998 Best Book of a Musical Tony Award for his libretto to Ragtime. He's also currently revising the libretto to Rodgers & Hart's Pal Joey for the Toronto-based Livent Inc.

* As for Fugard's Tiger, it will have played at NJ's McCarter (May) and CA's La Jolla Playhouse (July) by the time it reaches MTC. It tells the autobiographical story of a young writer haunted by a cherished photograph of his mother as a young woman. Fugard, author of Boesman and Lena, Master Harold and the Boys, The Blood Knot and Valley Song, writes and directs.

Fugard directs and stars in the play (as he did in Valley Song), which premiered in Pretoria, South Africa in late August 1997. Following the opening night, Fugard jotted a note to McCarter's artistic director Emily Mann, who was also in attendance: "...a thrilling launch last night. Individual response after the show leaves me in no doubt we have on our hands a play that works."

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Also on the season schedule: Arthur Kopit's 1962 farce, Oh Dad...So Sad, tells of a scheming lady (Madame Rosepettle) and her "socially challenged son." The MTC brochure notes that the play features "giant Venus flytraps, talking fish and a voracious babysitter named Rosalie."

According to the BackStage Theatre Guide, ODPDMHYITCAIFSS was written when Kopit was still an undergraduate at Harvard University. Other Kopit works include The Questioning of Nick (1957), Indians (1968), Wings (1978) and The Day The Whores Came Out To Play Tennis (1965).

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Red, not to be confused with Krzysztof Kieslowski's 1994 film of the same name, tells of "a best-selling American writer returning to her native Communist China to research her new book." The trip takes her to the Beijing Opera during the so-called "Cultural Revolution."

Yew's first play, As If He Hears, was commissioned by Theatreworks in Singapore, where it was initially banned by their government. His A Language of Their Own was given a limited run at L.A.'s Celebration Theatre in 1994 and opened at New York's Public Theatre in 1995. Yew's gay drama Porcelain recently played in Boston.

Yew is presently a resident artist and director of The Mark Taper's Asian Theatre Workshop and Resident Director of the East West Players, where his trilogy, Whitelands (comprised of Porcelain, A Language of Their Own and Half Lives), was presented in repertory in 1996.

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Manhattan Theatre Club subscribers have two options: an 8-show "Super Series" or a 5-play option of all four plays on the mainstage plus one of the Stage II works. The theatre currently boasts more than 20,000 subscribers.

For subscriptions ($215-$314) and information on Manhattan Theatre Club shows call (212) 399-3030 or check out their website at http://www.mtc-nyc.org

-- By David Lefkowitz
and Robert Simonson

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