PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Dec. 6-12: King Kushner

News   PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Dec. 6-12: King Kushner Playwright Tony Kushner dominates the theatrical scene every 10 years, it seems. Everything was coming up Kushner in 1993, when both parts of the epic Angels in America debuted on Broadway and swallowed all the awards and kudos in sight. After that, his profile was relatively low for some time. A Slavs! here, a directing assignment there, yes, but nothing to command an Angels level of attention.

Well, the hours he obviously put in at his writing desk during that time are now paying off handsomely. The musical Caroline, or Change recently debuted at the Public Theater and may be headed to Broadway. Angels in America finally was committed to celluloid, though not as a big screen project, as was originally planned; Mike Nichols' six-hour HBO television movie premiered on Dec. 7 to the highest praise and ratings of the cable TV year. Part two airs Dec. 14. Additionally, Homebody/Kabul, the two-part political play which played Off-Broadway in 2001, is headed back to New York City; in a remarkable occurrence, a revised version will run at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in early 2004.

Not enough for you? Well, there's more to look forward to from the man who is arguably America's most wordy wordsmith—and Republicans won't like any of it. Only We Who Guard the Mystery Shall Be Unhappy—the play in which First Lady Laura Bush, a former teacher, is shown reading a section of "The Brothers Karamazov" to the dead children of Iraq—will probably see a stage in 2004. And Angels star Stephen Spinella will appear in The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures at the Mark Taper Forum in the spring of 2005.

But, wait! That's not all. The Long Wharf Theatre is exploring the possibility of bringing the children's opera Brundibar by Kushner and Czech composer Hans Krasa to the New Haven stage during the 2004-05 season. And then there's the deconstructed, gay, chamber opera version of Abie's Irish Rose he's developing for the Royal Court in London.

OK, that last one isn't happening (at least, I don't think it is). It is possible, also, that Caroline may not happen. Kushner was recently quoted as saying the show would definitely transfer to Broadway, arriving in February 2004 at the earliest. He added that the financing was in place (though other sources say he still has some ways to go), and that the show had a theatre, though he didn't say witch. The Eugene O'Neill has been mentioned. And HBO and a bevy of veteran producers have been cited as the money sources.

There were a host of Off-Broadway openings over the past week. Doing best with critics were Tracey Scott Wilson's urban newspaper drama, The Story, a co-production between The Public Theater and Long Wharf Theatre starring Phylicia Rashad and Erika Alexander; and Lincoln Center Theater's production of Nothing But the Truth, a South African drama by playwright and actor John Kani. Less fortunate were the National Actors Theatre mounting of Luigi Pirandello's Right You Are and Playwrights Horizons' world premiere of Wendy MacLeod's Juvenilia. Beginning previews, meanwhile, was the New Group's revival of Wallace Shawn's play Aunt Dan and Lemon, surely one of the most disturbing, controversial and powerful dramas of the past 20 years. Kristen Johnston and Lili Taylor star in the title roles. A seeming answer to William Gibson's Golda Meir play Golda's Balcony was added to the Broadway play roster. Sixteen Wounded, by Eliam Kraiem, will start at the Walter Kerr March 22, 2004. The play traces the unlikely friendship between a Jewish baker and his Palestinian apprentice. The author once worked the sound board on Golda's Balcony. Garry Hynes directs.

Also, director Matthew Warchus, who likes his casts small and his plots specific (Art, True West, Life x 3), may direct a new Broadway production of David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow this spring.

Finally, the producers of Wicked know how to keep a star happy. Ailing Norbert Leo Butz—who plays the love interest of Idina Menzel's Elphaba—has been out of the show of late and won't return until Jan. 18. So rather than let the understudy fill in during the entire absence, the show hired Taye Diggs, whom Menzel knows from both Rent and the other side of her bed—the two are married. Diggs begins on Dec. 25. Nice gift.