Lanford Wilson's season in the sun at Off-Broadway's Signature Theatre begins Aug. 27 with the first preview of Burn This, his Broadway play from 1987 that will now feature Ed Norton and Catherine Keener, best known for their film work, and Ty Burrell and Dallas Roberts.
Signature will present the play not at its 42nd Street home but at the Union Square Theatre, for a run of 10 weeks. Signature artistic director James Houghton directs.
Norton plays Pale, the volcanically emotional New York restauranteur, and Keener is Anna, the dancer he inflicts his attentions upon.
Official opening for Burn This is Sept. 19. The entire Signature season is devoted to plays by Pulitzer Prize-winner Wilson, who penned such works as Talley's Folly, 5th of July and The Hot l Baltimore).
Keener is an Oscar nominee for "Being John Malkovich," Norton is two-time Oscar nominee for "American History X" and "Primal Fear," Ty Burrell (who'll play Burton) appeared in "Black Hawk Down" and Dallas Roberts (who'll play Larry) appeared in Nocturne at the New York Theatre Workshop. In Burn This, "a young dancer's accidental death uproots the lives of four New Yorkers who, through their shared grief, confront personal passions and unexpected desire." The original staging starred John Malkovich (as Pale), Joan Allen (as Anna), Jonathan Hogan (as Burton) and Lou Liberatore (as Larry).
The Signature season will also include Talley's Folly (starring Cynthia Nixon and Mark Nelson), the New York premieres of Book of Days (directed by Marshall Mason) and Rain Dance (directed by Guy Sanville). All but Burn This will play the Signature's home base, the Peter Norton Space, at 555 W. 42nd Street.
Tickets are $65 (there will be a limited number of day-of-performance rush tickets available at the box office only for $30). The Union Square Theatre is at 100 E. 17th Street.
For tickets call the Union Square box office at (212) 505-0700 or (212) 307-4100. For information about Signature Theatre Company, visitsignaturetheatre.org.
Book of Days and Rain Dance are two plays than began life at Michigan's small Purple Rose Theatre Company. Book was commissioned by the Purple Rose and then played the Repertory of St. Louis Repertory and Hartford Stage. There were hopes of bringing it in to New York, and no transfer ever occurred. The story concerns a flinty, outspoken onetime hippie, Martha Hoch, who swore, chain-smoked and taught at the local Christian college in the small-town Missouri setting.
Rain Dance also played the Purple Rose, in Chelsea, MI, but didn't have much more of a life. The play centers on a young American scientist who leaves New York to work on a top-level project in Los Alamos in 1945. Director Guy Sanville is artistic director of the Purple Rose, which was founded by actor Jeff Daniels, a protégé of Mason and Wilson.
Wilson's work began being produced in New York in 1963, at places like Caffe Cino and La MaMa, where he and Sam Shepard (a Signature playwright of several seasons back) were contemporaries. Early plays included Rimers of Eldritch and Balm in Gilead, which Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company revived to great acclaim in the early '80s. Wilson's fortunes rose with the '70s, a time which saw the success of such works as Lemon Sky, The Hot l Baltimore and the first two part of his "Talley Trilogy," 5th of July and Talley's Folly. The latter won the Pulitzer Prize.
Many of these works were presented at Circle Repertory Company, a landmark Off-Broadway troupe Wilson co founded.
The last decade, however, has seen a slow falling off in Wilson's commercial and critical stock. The last play of his to reach Broadway was 1993's Redwood Curtain, which quickly closed to great financial loss and by some accounts helped speed the subsequent demise of Circle Rep. Many of Wilson's most recent efforts — including The Rain Dance, Book of Days and A Sense of Place, or Virgil Is Still the Frog Boy — haven't been seen in New York, debuting instead at such places as the Bay Street Theatre in Long Island and the Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea, MI.
— By Kenneth Jones
and Robert Simonson