After a successful winter mounting at New Jersey's George Street Playhouse and an equally potent — and mostly sold out — run at Connecticut's Long Wharf Theatre, Anne Meara’s Down the Garden Paths has now made its way to Off Broadway. Previews began at the Minetta Lane Theatre, Nov. 7 for an opening Nov. 19 and a 12 week lifespan, through Jan. 28, 2001.
The story of a family gathering to celebrate the latest novel by an award winning author, Down the Garden Paths has kept most, but not all, of its regional cast. As in the previous productions, an on-film cameo by Meara's real life husband, Jerry Stiller (as Herschel Strange, a quantum physicist) opens each segment. Stiller and Meara's real-life daughter, Amy Stiller (Sharon Garden/Jodie Garden), is also in the show. Adding further to the show's familial undercurrent are true-life couple Eli Wallach (Sid Garden) and Anne Jackson (Stella Dempsey Garden), joined by their daughter, Roberta Wallach (Claire Shayne/Claire Garden). Angela Pietropinto repeats her duties as Professor Cramer.
For the Off-Broadway mounting, John Shea (last Off Broadway in The Director) is Arthur, Adam Grupper (I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change) plays Max and Leslie Lyles is Liz. (John Procaccino, Michael Countryman and Ann McDonough had played those roles regionally.) Director David Saint, artistic director at George Street, remains at the helm.
Designing The Garden Paths at George Street and Off Broadway are Michael Lincoln (replacing Howell Binkley, who was busy at the time on Minnelli on Minnelli), James Youmans (set), Chris Bailey (sound) and David Murin (costumes). The producing team is Elliott Martin, Max Cooper and Ron Shapiro, with Roy Gabay serving as general manager, according to the Jeffrey Richards Associates press office.
Co-stars Jackson and Wallach have appeared together in such shows as Twice Around the Park and the recent Tennessee Williams Remembered. The younger Wallach received a Drama Desk nomination for playing the hellishly unpleasant daughter in Donald Margulies' The Model Apartment. Down the Garden Paths starts with a seemingly typical set-up of a bickering, well-to-do family toasting their brilliant son, Arthur, for winning the Herschel Strange Award for his theoretical book. Immediately, underlying tensions come to the surface, including snipes from Arthur's jealous brother, childless wife and feuding, vaudeville-era parents (Wallach and Jackson). Just as Arthur's book is based on the "what if" factor - (i.e., every action or event has a result, but also an infinite number of different results occurring in an alternate universe), Meara's play then shows the same family dinner party three more times, each irrevocably changed by an incident years ago on Kiamesha Lake.
Weeks ago, when the musical imPERFECT CHEMISTRY [sic] was trying to make a go of it at the Minetta Lane, it was revealed that Down the Garden Paths already had a back-up agreement for the venue. Though CHEMISTRY went kaboom Oct. 1, only recently were dates confirmed for the arrival of Meara’s comedy-drama.
Author Meara, though an actress well known for her work in theatre (Anna Christie), on television (“Archie Bunker’s Place”) and in stand-up comedy (with aforementioned husband Jerry Stiller), has had only one other play produced: the Off Broadway smash After-Play. Years before that, she’d penned a comedy-drama called Victims that Mike Nichols had expressed serious interest in directing, but the project never came to fruition, according to Stiller’s recent autobiography, “Married to Laughter.”
For tickets and information on Down the Garden Paths at the Minetta Lane Theatre, 18 Minetta Lane, call (212) 307-4100.