It's going to be a busy time for playwright Lanie Robertson. Not only does he have a new play opening at Penguin Rep in upstate New York, but a revival of his Billie Holiday-themed show, Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill, is poised to move from New Jersey's George Street Playhouse to an Off-Broadway venue in early February 2002.
A Jacksina Company spokesperson confirmed that the George Street cast would move with the production, which would be co-produced in New York by Jeffrey Solis.
Lady Day led off the season at George Street, starting previews Oct. 9 for an opening Nov. 13 and a run through Nov. 11. Suzzanne Douglas, the first black woman to star in the Pulitzer-winning Wit, returned to George Street to play Lady Day, whose addiction to booze and drugs wrecked a career as legendary as any jazz singer in the 20th century. Songs in the Outer Critics Circle Award winning Lady Day include "T'Ain't Nobody's Biz-ness," "Crazy He Calls Me" and "God Bless the Child." David Alan Bunn is the show's pianist, who occasionally interacts with Holiday.
Other Robertson works include the recently-revived Joe Orton story Nasty Little Secrets and the Kleban-winning libretto for Stringbean.
Spokesperson Jacksina told PBOL the New Brunswick, NJ mounting "broke every house record at George Street." *
As for the rest of the George Street season, after Lady Day, Mark Nelson, whose Off-Broadway roles have included Einstein in Picasso at the Lapin Agile and a wised-up advice-giver in As Bees in Honey Drown, stars in a revival of Lanford Wilson's Pulitzer-winning Talley's Folly. The 1980 comedy drama, about a lonely Jewish immigrant wooing a shy and emotionally wounded WASP, will be directed by Ted Sod and run Nov. 27-Dec. 23, officially opening Nov. 30.
Author Wilson continued following the Talley family in Fifth of July and A Tale Told (later renamed Talley and Son). Other plays include Lemon Sky and Burn This. Julia Gibson plays Sally Talley.
Designing Talley's Folly are Ted Simpson (set), Karen A. Ledger (costumes), Joe Saint (lighting) and Christopher J. Bailey (sound).
Velina Hasu Houston's Waiting for Tadashi, directed by artistic director David Saint (who workshopped the piece last year), begins the new year. The tale of a boy born to a Japanese mother and U.S. serviceman father during World War II runs Jan. 8-Feb. 3, 2002, opening Jan. 9.
Though her Old Money had little currency at Lincoln Center, Wendy Wasserstein still boasts a formidable canon, including 1992's Tony nominated The Sisters Rosensweig, to be staged by David Saint Feb. 12-March 10, opening Feb. 15, 2002. The play's focal point is Sarah, a middle-aged banking exec who's moved to London and feels distanced from her Brooklyn-Jewish roots. Still, a dalliance with a haimische furrier pulls her back into her background.
Saint has yet to choose the season's fifth show (for the March 19-April 14, 2002 slot), to be staged by Ethan McSweeny, but the sixth and final entry will be a community-based project created by Ain Gordon, Public Ghosts — Private Stories. According to a George Street release, the show "recounts 180 years of African-American, Hispanic, Hungarian and Irish life in the [New Brunswick] community." Michael Rohd and Eric Ruffin co-direct, April 23-May 19, opening April 26, 2002.
In further George Street news, more than three years ago, plans were afoot to bring Mark Victor Olsen's play, Cornelia, about the life of governor George Wallace's second wife, to Broadway. The show has remained in limbo, seemingly hampered by producers' inability to find a suitable, star-worthy lead actress who'd commit to the project. As Olsen's agent at the Tantleff Office, John Santoianni, told Playbill On-Line at the time, any theatrical plans for the play are "primarily contingent on finding an actress for the starring role. Until then, it's in some limbo."
Early on, Elizabeth Ashley had been mentioned for the role of Ruby, Cornelia Wallace's mother. As late as September 2000, Ashley was still expressing interest in the role and now, at least for a night and in a staged reading, she'll get a crack at it. Cornelia will be staged as part of George Street Playhouse's "Naked Plays" series, Nov. 5. George Street artistic director, McSweeny, will direct, with Ashley playing the mom and Side Man Tony-winner Frank Wood also in the reading.
Olsen's play is based on George Wallace's relationship with his second wife during his unsuccessful presidential bid.
George Wallace passed away in 1998. One of America's most colorful, if infamous governors, he is remembered for instigating the historic confrontation over school desegregation in which the National Guard was called in by the White House to keep the doors of the University of Alabama open for black students. Wallace was shot in an assassination attempt during the early '70s while running for president, and was bound to a wheelchair for the remainder of his life.
Actress Ashley received a 1962 Tony Award for her performance with Art Carney in Take Her, She's Mine. Her other Broadway credits include The Highest Tree, Barefoot in the Park, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Agnes of God. Her recent turn in The Glass Menagerie at Hartford Stage was Broadway bound until problems world-wide producing rights got in the way.
Back in September 2000, agent Santoianni noted that Barry and Fran Weissler still hold the theatrical producing rights to Cornelia, rights previously held by the Dodgers. At the same time, film rights are held by Barwood Films, Barbra Streisand's production company at the Columbia Studios. At that time, Olson was busy working on an HBO series about the diaries of Mary Chestnut, the wife of a Confederate politician.
In previous months, director Christopher Ashley was attached to the project, which was originally to be staged by Jerry Zaks. Ashley's early assignments included Buzzsaw Berkeley and Bella, Belle of Byelorussia, while more recent gigs have been the cartoony biography of Gilda Radner, Bunny Bunny, and the cartoon-based Encores! revival of Li'l Abner His breakthrough was Jeffrey by playwright Paul Rudnick.
As for George Street's "Naked Plays" series, in which plays are done sans costumes, sets and props, the next reading will be Dec. 17: Ain Gordon's Public Ghosts — Private Stories, based on 180 years of ethnic and immigrant true-life stories in New Brunswick. This will be the last public reading of the piece before it goes up in full production in May. Further plays will be read Jan. 14, Feb. 25, April 1 and May 13, 2002.
A George Street Playhouse spokesperson told Playbill On-Line the hope is for the "Naked Plays" series to "help our audiences get an eye on how a show goes up from its embryonic stages. It's the bare bones of theatre itself."
-- By David Lefkowitz