The starriest free entertainment on Earth, The Seagull, began previews in Central Park July 24. And, predictably, folks began lining up for tickets around 4 AM for the opportunity to see Meryl Streep act on stage for the first time in 20 years. Not to mention Kevin Kline, whose stage turns are not so far apart, but still rare enough. And then there's fresh Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden (actually there are four Oscar winners on stage); character actor of the moment Philip Seymour Hoffman; Christopher Walken, temporarily leaving the world of film villainy; John Goodman, staying far from Normal, Ohio; and, for the kids, that "Star Wars" gal, Natalie Portman. Also, Debra Monk, Stephen Spinella and Larry Pine — but then, they're on the stage all the time, and probably not why all those fair-weather theatre fans are waiting for nine hours out there on the lawn.
More than any other playwright, Chekhov always seems to draw star casts. Or, at least, he attracts directors keen on a star cast. About ten years ago, Emily Mann mounted Three Sisters at Princeton's McCarter Theatre, and recruited for the enterprise Mary Stuart Masterson, Frances McDormand, Linda Hunt, Laura San Giacomo and Edward Herrmann. A few years later, Scott Elliot staged the same play at the Roundabout Theatre Company and felt he just couldn't get by without the services of Lily Taylor, Amy Irving, Jeanne Tripplehorn, David Strathairn, Billy Crudup, Eric Stoltz, Jerry Stiller and Calista Flockhart (though, to be fair, the latter was not famous at the time).
And now we have Mike Nichols who, of course, can attract the bold- face names like no one else. His Waiting for Godot boasted the last stage turns we're likely to see from Steve Martin and Robin Williams. And Death and the Maiden featured the power trio of Glenn Close, Richard Dreyfuss and Gene Hackman. With his reputation, Nichols could probably attract a healthy audience armed with a cast of unknowns. But nothing succeeds like excess in America, so at the Delacorte this summer every dressing room is a star dressing room.
Last season, no casting process inspired more speculation than that of the Roundabout Theatre Company's Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim's Follies. Well, this year the Roundabout has gone and booked another important Sondheim revival, Assassins, and the question as to who's going to be packing pistols on stage at the Booth Theatre is this season's guessing game of choice. Nothing is official of course. But Douglas Sills' name is on everyone's lips as likely for the first and most famous of Presidential killers, John Wilkes Booth. And Neil Patrick Harris and Denis O'Hare have been mentioned for roles. Of course, if director Joe Mantello wanted to make it easy on himself (and, at the same time, net an excellent cast), he could round up much of the original 1991 line-up. Several of them, including Annie Golden and Debra Monk, are in town right now.
Rodgers and Hammerstein's music blankets the country these days. The upcoming touring revival of South Pacific, produced by Barry and Fran Weissler and Clear Channel Entertainment, got its first public preview July 24 at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul. Following the Minnesota run, it will embark on a 50-week tour. Erin Dilly and Michael Nouri star. The show begins just as the national tour of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella banks into its final stretch. Deborah Gibson kicked off the Gabriel Barre-directed Cinderella tour Nov. 29, 2000, and now she's back for the last few weeks. You gotta have a gimmick, as the song goes, and this coming season many theatre companies have found the perfect hook in Alan Ayckbourn's House and Garden, the joined-at-the-hip comedies which are meant to be staged simultaneously on two theatre stages in the same building. Of course, this only works if you happen to be a theatre that has two stages in the same building. But there are a few of those. Chicago's Goodman Theater was the first to seize upon the opportunity. Its production was such a success that New York's Manhattan Theatre Club soon announced its intention to utilize its own Stage I and Stage II to mount the mammoth undertaking at the end of the 2001-02 season. Now, that's the plan, too, for Houston's Alley Theatre, which will present Ayckbourn's two-fisted play April 12-May 5, 2002 on the Large Stage and the Neuhaus Arena Stage.
The most intriguingly cast play current gracing the boards in the U.S. may be Annie Weisman's Be Aggressive, at La Jolla Playhouse. The drama — about two sisters who lose their mother in a car accident, one of them seeking healing for the pain by throwing herself obsessively into cheerleading — stars Obie and Drama Desk Award winner Angela Goethals (The Good Times Are Killing Me) and Tony winner Daisy Eagan (The Secret Garden). The play possibly provides the best roles in some time for two actresses who found early and tremendous success as child stage actresses and have struggled to find their footing ever since. The two are not only sisters on stage, but likely sisters in experience.
Finally, a car accident in Ireland forced monologuist Spalding Gray to cancel an Aug. 5 performance of Morning, Noon and Night at the Cape Playhouse in Dennis, MA. Gray was vacationing in Ireland with his wife on June 15 when he was injured in a head-on automobile collision. Gray checked into a Dublin hospital with a fractured pelvis and a fractured eye orbit. Weirdly, Gray's 1996 monologue Gray's Anatomy concerned the author's search for a cure for an eye condition. Call it life imitating art imitating life. That monologue should be a doozy.