New York Theatre Workshop officially opens its 1997-98 season Oct. 7 with a Belgian director's staging of Eugene O'Neill's More Stately Mansions. Also on tap in this wildly off-beat season will be a return visit by the Five Lesbian Brothers, a poetic/musical work about a black woman returning to the South, and an English director staging the London hit with the title everyone's talking about: Shopping And Fucking.
Here's the New York Theatre Workshop line-up:
Belgian-born director Ivo Van Hove stages O'Neill's More Stately Mansions, in English, featuring an American cast. The show began previews Sept. 20.
Artistic director of Amsterdam's Het Zuitelijk Toneel company, Van Hove is well-known for reinterpreting American classics by O'Neill and Tennessee Williams. Randal Lichtenwalner, NYTW's director of audience development, told Playbill On-Line that Van Hove's production has received numerous awards throughout Europe. "Our artistic director, Jim Nicola, saw the play when he was in Amsterdam and was very taken with Van Hove's work."
Though Van Hove speaks English, Mansions needs a longer-than average rehearsal time because, "he'll have to teach the American actors his style of stripping the production down," said Lichtenwalner. "It's different from method acting and other styles American actors are used to. He goes for a heightened, almost dreamlike quality. He collaborates a lot with his scenic designer, Jan Versweyveld, who'll also make the trip to New York." A spare, non-naturalistic setting is promised for Mansions.
The cast for Mansions includes Jenny Bacon, Joan Macintosh, Joel Rooks, Michael Durrell, Mark Hammer, Tim Hopper (Picasso From The Lapin Agile & Present Laughter), and Robert Petkoff. Part of an unfinished cycle of plays to be titled, "A Tale Of Possessors Self-Dispossessed, Mansions looks at the tangled relationships between a mother, her son and his wife in early 19th Century Massachusetts. Written in 1939, Mansions was rediscovered at Yale in 1951 with this note from its author: "Unfinished work. This script to be destroyed in case of my death."
It wasn't, of course. And O'Neill's widow forwarded it to the Swedish Royal Dramatic Theatre, where Karl Ragnar Gierow finished the play. Jose Quintero wrote his own finale to the drama in 1967, but van Hove's staging returns to the Gierow script.
After Mansions closes, NYTW will bring back The Five Lesbian Brothers (beginning Nov. 14; running to Dec. 31). The quintet, of The Secretaries fame, will write and star in Brides Of The Moon.
A sci-fi spoof, Moon takes place in the future, when the entire world is owned by a large corporation called "IASWAL" (an acronym for "It's A Small World After All"). Lichtenwalner describes the plot thusly: "Four women astronauts and a monkey blast off to meet their male counterparts so they can populate the moon. But the women get stranded on the dark side of Uranus, and are faced not only with the struggle to survive, but the implanted urge to have sex every day at 6 PM. And that's just the beginning."
Up third is Mark Ravenhill's Shopping And Fucking, now playing in London's West End at the Gielgud, and first co-produced by Out Of Joint and the Royal Court Theatre. The NYTW production will be co-directed by Max Stafford Clark and the playwright. (Clark directs it alone in London).
No casting has yet been announced, though Lichtenwalner said, "I think they'll be using American designers, but similar to the London production." The play's synopsis reads thusly: "A look at the disposable disconnected and dysfunctional world in which three post-generation X'ers come of age, where all human activities are reduced to transactions." Lichtenwalner said the show will likely begin previews mid-January 1998 for a run to late-Feb. Or mid-March, 1998.
The fourth NYTW play has yet to be announced. Plays still under consideration are Paula Vogel's The Mineola Twins, which the theatre has been eyeing for over two years, and Band In Berlin, about the German vocal group The Harmonists. (If the Harmonists sound familiar, they're the same group examined in Barry Manilow's upcoming musical, Harmony.) Band In Berlin, which was workshopped at the Brooklyn Academy Of Music, takes a more multi-media, documentary approach. Both plays are also under consideration for 1998 99.
The closer this season will be Tillers (formerly titled "Soul Let Fly"). Fanni V. Green's play uses poetry, story and song to tell the tale Shelby, a black woman, returning to the South. Now a college-educated adult, Shelby tries to balance the expectations of her when she was young with her life experience -- and deal with family members and people in her church and their own, sometimes limited views.
As for the following season, Bone Songs, a play with music by Andre Gregory and the Alloy Orchestra, could make itself heard. Gregory was the "Andre" in Wallace Shawn's My Dinner With Andre.
Asked about New York Magazine's report that the theatre was considering a musical based on Jay McInerney's 1984 novel, Bright Lights, Big City, scripted by McInerney with a score by Paul Scott Goodman, Lichtenwalner said, "We had an excellent reading, and everyone's very excited about it. The only thing keeping us from moving ahead is that we have so many other projects we're already committed to. Certainly we won't see this in the next twelve months, but we're trying to help the author bring develop it for either here or another theatre."
One obstacle NYTW must overcome is the September resignation of longtime managing director Nancy Kassak Diekmann. Carla Forbes-Kelly has been named interim managing director while the search goes on for a permanent candidate for the post.
For information on the 1997-98 New York Theatre Workshop season, call (212) 460-5475. Memberships start at $100 and include one admission to every production, free coffee, ticket exchange privileges and other perks. New York Theatre Workshop is, of course, the springboard of Broadway's Rent, as well as David Rabe's acclaimed A Question Of Mercy in early 1997.
--By David Lefkowitz