PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Aug. 6-12: If It Ain't Broke...

ICYMI   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Aug. 6-12: If It Ain't Broke... Why tamper with success?
John Patrick Shanley
John Patrick Shanley

Manhattan Theatre Club, which had one of the great successes of its existence with John Patrick Shanley's Doubt, will try to make history repeat itself this season. Shanley's Defiance—which this column tagged as being on the fast track for New York on June 24, after a Vassar College workshop was loaded down with starry actors like Chris Cooper and Dana Delany—was announced for a February 2006 opening at the nonprofit on Aug. 8, just one week after the above-mentioned New York Stage and Film outing concluded.

So: Shanley play, MTC, one-word title, begins with a "D"—check, check, check, check. The plot, like Doubt's, takes place in the past—1971, this time, not 1964; and within a United States Marine Corps base in North Carolina, an institution surely as regimented and ripe for drama as a Bronx Catholic School. The formula's in place so far. What's missing? Oh, yeah. Doug Hughes, that guy who directed Doubt. He didn't stage the show at Vassar, but now he's on board. No cast yet, but the one upstate would be nice: Cooper, Delany, Ruben Santiago-Hudson and Chris Bauer.

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Michael Cumpsty got a rare chance to show his comic chops in Broadway's The Constant Wife, after years of heavy lifting in Copenhagen and Democracy and the like. But come November, it will be back to the serious stuff. He will play the Melancholy Dane in Hamlet for Classic Stage Company. CSC artistic director Brian Kulick will direct the Shakespeare tragedy.

*** If you thought Shockheaded Peter, the kiddie terror meta vaudeville which recently played a return engagement Off-Broadway, was a unique bit of stagework, just scan the plot of Spirit, the latest from Julian Crouch and Phelim McDermott, two of the twisted minds behind Peter. The show is said to be about "three performers struggling to tell the story of three brothers." The piece begins with the three actors half in and half out of the set, unsure of what to say or what story to tell. Eventually, they enact the story of a trio of brother bakers, one of whom goes to war in the place of another. Involved in the telling are dancing, puppets and improvisation. Previews begin Sept. 13 with an opening two days later at New York Theatre Workshop.

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Elsewhere Off-Broadway, the new offerings announced this week do not lack for variety. One show is The Ark, with music by Michael McLean and book and lyrics by McLean and Kevin Kelly, opening Nov. 14 at Theater B in the 37 Arts complex. And, yes, it's about that ark. It will feature Annie Golden as Eliza and Paul Harmon as Noah. It purports to take a "fresh, contemporary look at the classic story of Noah by showing us the back story of his family"—a plot description to set any Bible Belter on edge.

For a more Blue State audience, one would think, is the musical Dr. Sex, with Brian Noonan playing Dr. Alfred Kinsey and Jennifer Simard is his devoted wife, Clara, beginning performances Aug. 26 at the Peter Norton Space. Larry Bortniker (lyricist, composer, co-librettist) and Sally Deering (co-librettist) created the work, which is advertised as "the cleanest show about sex in the history of musical comedy."

For drama fans, meanwhile, there's the return of the Fringe-born Cycling Past the Matterhorn by Deborah Grimberg. The play is about Esther, a British woman who is losing her sight and her fiercely loyal middle-aged sister. Bound to attract attention are the cast members: Shirley Knight, the Tony Award winner and Academy Award nominee, will play Esther, and Brenda Wehle, the Obie Award winner for Off-Broadway's Talking Heads, will be the sister.

Already open Off-Broadway is Once Around the Sun, which features an original score by Robert Morris, Steven Morris and Joe Shane and a book by Kellie Overbey. Jace Alexander directs a cast that also includes Maya Days and Asa Somers. The plot concerns a struggling musician whose chance at the big time may require his abandoning his family, life-long friends and true love.

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The Clean House is cleaning house all across the nation. Nonprofits can't wait to book this Sarah Ruhl play, which was a 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist soon after its lauded premiere at Yale Rep in New Haven in 2004. It has already been seen at The Wilma Theater in Philadelphia and the Woolly Mammoth Theatre in Washington, D.C., and is scheduled for the coming season at Chicago's Goodman Theatre, Milwaukee Rep, Cincinnati Playhouse, Denver Theater Company and San Francisco's TheatreWorks. The latest booking? Lincoln Center Theater's Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater in fall 2006. New Yorkers who can't wait a year to see what all the excitement is about best book a flight to one of the above metropoli.

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Barbara Bel Geddes, one of those rare actresses that critics could never seem to find a bad word to say about, died Aug. 8 at the age of 82. A cool and collected presence, with abundant intelligence and hidden reserves of wisdom and sly wit, she will be remembered by the theatre as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof's first Maggie, and the star of one of Broadway's biggest (though now, largely forgotten) comedy hits, Jean Kerr's Mary, Mary.

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Put one odd, button-down man on stage with a pitcher of water, have him spout an hour's worth of cryptic observations on life, throw in some threatened audience participation, net a bunch of reviews that employ the word "existential"—it all says "Hit! Hit! Hit!" to you, doesn't it? Well, actually, it should. Will Eno's Thom Pain (based on nothing), which began Feb. 1, has extended yet again at the DR2 Theatre, this time until Dec. 31. The Off-Broadway oddity recouped back in May.