PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, March 13-19: Last Minute Show Shopping

News   PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, March 13-19: Last Minute Show Shopping Just when you think the Broadway spring season has ossified before its time, along came a surprise late entry in the 2003-04 sweepstakes, hailing from, of all places, Florida State University at Tallahassee. That's where Mark Medoff's new drama, Prymate, recently had its very quiet tryout (though not quite quiet enough that the New York Times didn't write about it).

Producers Michael Parva and Chase Mishkin liked what they saw and commenced to rent the Longacre and retrieve star Andre De Shields from Chicago's Goodman Theatre, where he was due to perform in Proof this month. The work follows the story of two scientists who are battling for control over the life of an aging gorilla, and debates whether the animal should be allowed to grow old peacefully or be tested in hopes of finding a cure for a deadly disease. De Shields will play—in a turn that's bound to attract comment—the ape, whose capable of no speech, aside from a limited command of American Sign Language.

The Broadway opening is May 5, the last of the season. Phyllis Frelich (who starred in the play that made Medoff's name, Children of a Lesser God) will also be in the Broadway cast.

So, that's that for the spring line-up in Times Square, right? Well, who knows? Frozen, the chilling drama about a pedophile serial killer by Bryony Lavery, opened at MCC Theatre on March 18 to knockout reviews. Particularly praised were stars Swoosie Kurtz, as the mother of an abducted child, and Brian O'Byrne, as the criminal. Director Doug Hughes, whose had the golden touch of late (his The Beard of Avon was a hit last fall), was also honored in print. The show ends April 10, and talk has begun of its prospects beyond Off-Broadway. Any move would have to be quick, but with three actors and virtually no set, celerity is not outside the realm of possibility.

The producers of these last minute offerings are very likely spurred on by what they see as a malleable Best Play contest, Tony-wise. The field is currently led by the much-admired I Am My Own Wife. But that one-person Doug Wright play is so unusual—it is Wright's very subjective telling of a morally ambiguous German transvestite's life story—that it could potentially be bested by a strong drama of a more conventional cut. The coming Match and Sixteen Wounded, both by relatively unknown writers, could test Wife's mettle, as could Prymate or, should it happen, Frozen.

*** Can it be that some show-biz fairy sprinkled magical dust over the original cast of The Producers, making them the only humans on earth who can be safely trusted with the material in its mold-setting New York incarnation? Certainly, the producers of the musical seem to hew to them time and time again when casting questions arise. After all the talk of Kelsey Grammer and Jon Lovitz, the new Leo and Max will be Brad Oscar and Roger Bart, the show's original Franz Liebkind and Carmen Ghia. They replace the departing Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, who created and appear to all but own the roles of Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom.

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Since Kristen Johnston returned from outer space—that is, her jaunt as an alien in TV's "Third Rock from the Sun"—she hasn't ceased treading the New York boards. She began due north of the city with a turn in the summer 2001 Berkshire Theatre Festival version of Michele Lowe's The Smell of the Kill, then entered Manhattan in the Roundabout Theatre Company's hit revival of The Women. A 2002 Central Park visit in Twelfth Night followed. Currently, she's in the applauded Off-Broadway revival of Wallace Shawn's Aunt Dan and Lemon. From there, she'll go on to Beatrice in this summer's Delacorte staging of Much Ado About Nothing. Certainly, years in television did not atrophy the stamina of this actress.

Much Ado will also see the return of one of the Public Theater's prodigal sons, Sam Waterston. What Liev Schrieber is to the nonprofit now, Waterston was in the '70s, acting Shakespeare role by role to a stream of plaudits. "Law & Order" swallowed him up some time ago and few of today's generation of theatregoers know what he can do on stage. They have a chance to find out with the warmer weather, as he takes on the part of Leonato. Added incentive for taking the job? His daughter Elizabeth Waterston will play his stage daughter, Hero.

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This Is How It Goes makes six. Plays, that is, by Neil LaBute to reach New York stages since the playwright-filmmaker hit paydirt in 1999 with the praised, sold-out and star-studded (Paul Rudd, Calista Flockhart) bash. After that, the man with the bottomless drawer of scripts delivered, in quick succession The Shape of Things at the Promenade, The Mercy Seat at MCC and Autobahn, a recent benefit performance for MCC. Beginning April 14 MCC premieres The Distance from Here and in the fall the Public Theater will give us This Is How It Is. (Hmm. The Shape of Things, The Distance From Here, This Is How It Goes—think perhaps Mr. LaBute has a world view?)

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Radio Golf makes 10. Plays, that is, in August Wilson's decade-by-decade examination of the African-American experience during the 20th century. He's finally finished it off. The last entry will premiere at Yale Repertory Theatre in April 2005. This one takes place in the 1990s, a decade that didn't even exist when Wilson first began his massive literary project. It features two middle-class real estate developers and golfers, a change for Wilson, who usually traffics in cash-poor musicians, laborers and con men.

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