PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Aug. 19-25: Give Plays a Chance

News   PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Aug. 19-25: Give Plays a Chance After six years of coming to the rescue of abandoned and forgotten musicals through its Encores! series, New York's City Center has finally realized there's another form of neglected theatrical performance out there, much older and even more prevalent: plays. The result: a new program of high-profile, star-studded play readings called Voices! (the title bearing the de rigueur exclamation point).
Alec Baldwin with Jeffrey Wright at Julius Caesar's opening; Lea DeLaria; Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents.
Alec Baldwin with Jeffrey Wright at Julius Caesar's opening; Lea DeLaria; Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents. (Photo by Baldwin, Laurents photos by Aubrey Reuben)

After six years of coming to the rescue of abandoned and forgotten musicals through its Encores! series, New York's City Center has finally realized there's another form of neglected theatrical performance out there, much older and even more prevalent: plays. The result: a new program of high-profile, star-studded play readings called Voices! (the title bearing the de rigueur exclamation point).

Actor Alec Baldwin will head up the new venture. The non-singing, non-dancing Baldwin -- making up for always having to sit in the audience rather than participate during Encores! productions -- will also appear in all three of the initial Voices! offerings: Joseph Kesselring's Arsenic and Old Lace, Nov. 11; Jules Feiffer's Little Murders, Jan. 30, 2001; and Stephen Vincent Benet's The Devil and Daniel Webster, March 13. Whether readings of seldom-seen dramas can attract the same sort of attention rabid musical fans bestow upon even the most obscure, closed on-the-road-after-one-performance tuner disaster remains to be seen. But, it's nice to see plays getting equal time.

It's been hard to pin down Patti LuPone lately. Over the past few months, she's been connected to several projects -- from Arthur Laurents' Off-Broadway-bound Jolson Sings Again to Robert Falls' Chicago mounting of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? -- while not committing to any of them. Well, at least fans will know where to find her on Sundays and Mondays this fall. LuPone will bring her concert act, Matters of the Heart -- which she has performed across the U.S. And in London -- to Lincoln Center Theater's Vivian Beaumont Oct. 15 to Dec. 17, appearing on the nights when the Contact hoofers rest their dogs. Her involvement in the ever-delayed Jolson seem unlikely at this point. As for Woolf, in which she'd tear up the stage and her fellow actors as Martha, Variety reported this week that she was on board. A spokesman for LuPone, however, flatly denied that, saying nothing had been decided. The booking is still possible; Woolf would begin performances at Chicago's Goodman Theatre Jan. 19. Of course, what with the rehearsal time needed to stage Albee's three-act monster, LuPone would have to kiss any holiday vacation goodbye.

Speaking of the Goodman, that theatre -- and Chicago theatre in general -- lost one of its leading lights this week when director Michael Maggio suddenly died on Aug. 19. Part of a triumvirate, including Frank Galati and Robert Falls, that took over the Goodman in the mid-80s, Maggio never achieved the national stature enjoyed by his two peers, but he found plenty of success in his home town, directing premieres by such Chicago-nurtured playwrights as Keith Reddin and Rebecca Gilman. (He was to have staged Gilman's Boy Gets Girl at Manhattan Theatre Club this season, as well as Gilman's latest, The Great Baseball Strike of '94 at the Goodman's new theatre in Chicago.)

And speaking of Arthur Laurents, it seems the older this playwright gets, the more he works. Though Jolson Sings Again's future is uncertain, Laurents' Big Potato is set to debut at Off-Broadway's Jewish Repertory Theatre this October. The never before-produced 1972 drama, about a Queens beautician and concentration camp survivor who discovers a Nazi from the camps living in the New York City borough, will star Paul Hecht and Polish acting star Elzbieta Czyzewska. Meanwhile, at New Brunswick, NJ's George Street Theatre, Laurents seems to have found a home. In February 2001, he will direct his own adaptation of Argentine playwright Jorge Accame's gentle comedy Venecia (set in familiar Laurents territory -- Venice); and see the April premiere of his latest work Claudio Lazlo, featuring The Time of the Cuckoo star Cigdem Onat. Finally, Laurents' Two Lives, which was yanked out of the Bay Street Theatre line-up earlier this summer, is widely expected to crop up at Lincoln Center Theater sometime soon (though no one will say as much). American movie stars continue to flock to the theatre in search of acting challenges and credibility, but, lately, not on these shores. Nicole Kidman, whose Blue Room turn is credited with creating the screen-to-stage trend, is on the verge of returning to the boards in Henrik Ibsen's The Lady from the Sea at the Royal National Theatre, under the direction of Trevor Nunn. And Jessica Lange is committed to starring in a new West End production of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night, opening Nov. 21.

Finally, the cast of the new Broadway revival of the cult musical, The Rocky Horror Show has, after weeks of speculation, been announced, and, as expected (and whatever surprises Follies may hold), it is the most oddball line-up of the year. Lea DeLaria (as Eddie and Dr. Scott), Daphne Rubin-Vega (as Magenta) and Alice Ripley (as Janet) are all talented performers, but its hard to imagine them sharing the same stage. Moreover, it's difficult to picture talk show host non pareil Dick Cavett (as the narrator) on a stage at all. And I can't imagine hard rocker Joan Jett (as Columbia) even going to the theatre.

--By Robert Simonson