PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, March 10-16: Taking the Baitz

News   PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, March 10-16: Taking the Baitz It wasn't the best-received of all of Jon Robin Baitz's plays, but it boasted the biggest stars. And so, it seems, Ten Unknowns, now playing at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre at Lincoln Center Theater, will return this fall for an open-ended run at a Shubert house on Broadway. The story of a reclusive artist who has lived in isolation in Mexico for decades stars Donald Sutherland (the first time any New York theatregoer has seen him on stage for 20 years) and "ER" star Julianna Margulies. The producers, of course, want them both to return to the play.
Jon Robin Baitz and his four known Unknowns; Billy Crudup most recently starred as Oedipus Off B'way (with Frances McDormand); An Inspector Calls.
Jon Robin Baitz and his four known Unknowns; Billy Crudup most recently starred as Oedipus Off B'way (with Frances McDormand); An Inspector Calls. (Photo by Baitz photo by Aubrey Reuben; <i>Oedipus</i> by Mary Ellen Mark; <i>An Inspector Calls</i> by Joan Marcus)

It wasn't the best-received of all of Jon Robin Baitz's plays, but it boasted the biggest stars. And so, it seems, Ten Unknowns, now playing at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre at Lincoln Center Theater, will return this fall for an open-ended run at a Shubert house on Broadway. The story of a reclusive artist who has lived in isolation in Mexico for decades stars Donald Sutherland (the first time any New York theatregoer has seen him on stage for 20 years) and "ER" star Julianna Margulies. The producers, of course, want them both to return to the play.

Baitz has been the thinking theatre's Golden Boy for so long, its easy to forget that he has never had a commercial run on Broadway. (This is not unusual for high-minded dramatic scribes, who, these days, practice their craft almost exclusively Off-Broadway. Still, even the most cerebral of playwrights typically have a Broadway credit somewhere in their past: David Greenberg had his Eastern Standard; Craig Lucas his Prelude to a Kiss.) Baitz will make up for lost time by having two productions hit the big time at once this autumn: Ten Unknowns and his adaptation of Hedda Gabler with Kate Burton. That's providing arrangements work out for both productions, of course. Call their ultimate fates "two unknowns."

By now, everyone knows that one of the plays due to haunt the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park this summer will be the star-studded Mike Nichols production of The Seagull. This week, the Public Theater let it be known that the second offering would be Measure for Measure. The cast will feature Billy Crudup, one of the few movie stars Nichols didn't somehow wrangle into his Chekhov. Mary Zimmerman, the Chicago-based auteur director whose work has been acclaimed across the nation but rarely seen in New York City, will helm the show.

Several significant Manhattan productions either got underway or officially opened this week. March 16 marked the first preview of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company's staging of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, starring Gary Sinise. Bells Are Ringing, starring Faith Prince, also began previews on Broadway. Three insouciant Brits — Alan Cumming, Jennifer Ehle and Dominic West — debuted under the direction of Yankee Joe Mantello in Noel Coward's Design for Living, which opened at the Roundabout Theatre Company March 15. As with Design, opinions of the most hotly anticipated opening of the week—Kenneth Lonergan's latest, Lobby Hero, at Playwrights Horizons — varied widely. But, at least with Lobby, notices more or less ranged from "good" to "really great." Anyway, interest in the play (or in Lonergan's Oscar nomination) was enough to prolong its run two week to April 8. Also extending this week was the Public's production of Jessica Hagedorn's Dogeaters, now running until April 1.

The scheduling switcheroo over at Manhattan Theatre Club is now officially a done deal. David Lindsay-Abaire's Wonder of the World has been pushed back to Oct. 1 so that "Sex and the City" star Sarah Jessica Parker can top its cast list. And filling Lindsay Abaire's slot is Warren Leight's latest, Glimmer, Glimmer and Shine (my, these play titles are cheery and hopeful), starring another television star, John Spencer of "The West Wing." Due north of Gotham, Tony Award winner Elizabeth Franz (Death of a Salesman) plays a Holocaust survivor in Donald Margulies' The Model Apartment, beginning performances April 4 at the Long Wharf Theatre. Critics have long regarded The Model Apartment as perhaps Margulies' best play. Don't be surprised if the Long Wharf attempts to capitalize on the playwright's new critical (read: Pulitzer Prize) and commercial (read: Dinner with Friends) clout by attempting a summer move to New York.

Quite a bit of new from London, most of it having to do with American musicals. (It's only fair, since much of New York's theatre news has to do with British plays.) The Royal National Theatre's long-awaited revival of Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady, starring Jonathan Pryce, opened March 15. The production marks the first London revival of the classic musical in 20 years and is already sold out. A West End transfer is planned. And the Tony Award-winning Broadway production of Kiss Me, Kate will open in October 2001 at London's Victoria Palace. "We're zeroing in on Oct. 30" for an opening date, said producer Roger Berlind. The show four original leads, including Brian Stokes Mitchell and Marin Mazzie, are sought.

The British sometimes fashion their own musicals, of course, though lately they're built around pop groups like Abba and The Beatles. The latest is Closer to Heaven, by Jonathan Harvey and 1980s synth-pop band, the Pet Shop Boys. The modern musical, set in London's clubland — replete with the beautiful, the famous and the drugged — will open at the tiny, 350-seat Arts Theatre on May 31. As the song goes, "I've got the brains/You've got the looks/Let's make lots of money."

Finally, the inspector calls for the last time on April 14. The British revival of J.B. Priestley's thriller An Inspector Calls became a surprise massive hit and one of the landmarks of 1990's British theatre, with the aid of innovative director Stephen Daldry's expressionistic vision, hundreds of buckets of waters and a collapsible house. A success on Broadway as well, the West End staging at the Garrick will have run for nearly six years.

— By Robert Simonson