PLAYBILL.COM'S WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 17-23: The American Plan, Indeed

ICYMI   PLAYBILL.COM'S WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 17-23: The American Plan, Indeed The biggest show of the Week in Theatre was surely the lavishly stage-managed Jan. 20 swearing in of Barack Obama as 44th President of the United States, in Washington, DC. In politics, as in theatre, entrances have impact.
The American Plan's Mercedes Ruehl and Lily Rabe
The American Plan's Mercedes Ruehl and Lily Rabe Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Richard Greenberg's 1990 play, The American Plan, made an entrance Jan. 22, opening in a new production by Manhattan Theatre Club that marks the title's Broadway debut. Critics cheered the production, directed by David Grindley and featuring Lily Rabe and Mercedes Ruehl as a daughter and mother locked in an emotionally clenched fight for the daughter's future. MTC gave the play its first life in 1990-91, and the gamble to bring it back has paid off.

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The Cort is now the site of comedian Will Ferrell's new comic poke at the man who made a major exit Tuesday — George W. Bush. Ferrell, who famously played W on "Saturday Night Live," made his Broadway debut on Inauguration Day in You're Welcome America. A Final Night With George W Bush (that's how it's punctuated), a five-actor comedy he created with director Adam McKay. (There was no authorship credit on the title page of the Playbill for early previews, but it is indeed written by Ferrell, and will say so in opening-week Playbills.) Commercials showing a very stupid-sounding Bush (played by Ferrell) have been flooding television in the New York City area. Ferrell is center-stage as Bush, with actors playing Condi Rice, a Secret Service man, a pilot and someone named Dr. Scott Blumeth. Opening is Feb. 5. The short Broadway run will include a performance to be seen on HBO.

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The 39 Steps, the zany four-actor, multiple character comedy caper inspired by the film by Alfred Hitchcock, resumed Broadway performances Jan. 21 at a new and more intimate house — the Helen Hayes Theatre. Sean Mahon, late of Broadway's The Seafarer is the new man who knew too little in the audience favorite. (The production has also played the American Airlines Theatre and the Cort.) *

Desire Under the Elms, Eugene O'Neill's passionate 1924 drama about familial jealousy and legacy on a New England farm, returned to the American stage Jan. 17 in a new Chicago production directed by Robert Falls and starring his frequent O'Neill collaborator, Brian Dennehy. Goodman Theatre announced a one-week extension this week, and said Carla Gugino will exit the play Feb. 17, before the end of the run. Opening night is Jan. 26.

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On Jan. 21, Hartford Stage and Off-Broadway's Signature Theatre Company announced that they will co-produce the world premiere of award-winning playwright Horton Foote's multi-play The Orphans' Home Cycle in 2009-2010. Hartford artistic director and frequent Foote collaborator Michael Wilson (Dividing the Estate) will direct the three-part cycle of nine — count 'em, nine! — plays. Hartford, CT, dates are Aug. 27-Oct. 17. The New York City dates are Oct. 29, 2009-April 11, 2010.

The Orphans' Home Cycle will be presented as a three-part event, with repertory performances and one-day marathons planned. Some of the works are world premieres, while others have been produced previously.

The Orphans' Home Cycle "begins with a father's death in a small-Texas town at the turn of the century, a loss that sends his son, Horace Robedaux, on an odyssey through the darkest corners of the heart as he learns to become a husband, father, and patriarch. Set in Foote's fictitious town of Harrison, TX, and based partly on the childhood of Foote's father and the courtship and marriage of his parents, the cycle is a wide-ranging, intricate work."

Part I of the cycle consists of the plays Roots in a Parched Ground, Convicts and Lily Dale; Part II includes The Widow Claire, Courtship and Valentine's Day; and Part III concludes with 1918, Cousins and The Death of Papa.

The Hartford staging of Roots in a Parched Ground, Convicts and Cousins will mark the world premieres of the plays.

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Among regional troupes opening world premieres this week were Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven and Denver Center Theatre Company in Colorado.

Athol Fugard's latest work, Coming Home, opened in New Haven Jan. 21. Artistic director Gordon Edelstein stages "the story of Veronica Jonkers, a young woman who left her beloved grandfather's farm to pursue her dreams of a singing career in Cape Town. Carrying a painful secret and a heart full of disappointment, she returns after his death and strives to plant the seeds of a new life for her young son."

In Denver Inana, Michele Lowe's play about an Iraqi museum curator, his wife and his work, opened Jan. 22. Michael Pressman directs the "poignant love story about an Iraqi museum curator's desperate attempt to save an ancient and treasured statue before the U.S. invasion of his country."

The premieres of Inana and Dusty and the Big Bad World (beginning Jan. 23) are the centerpieces in DCTC's Colorado New Play Summit.

Commercially, the Broadway-aimed Minsky's musical, with songs by Tony Award winner Charles Strouse (Annie) and Susan Birkenhead and book by Tony winner Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone), began previews at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles on Jan. 21. Casey Nicholaw (Spamalot, Drowsy) directs the bawdy portrait of burlesque king Billy Minsky, played by Tony nominee Christopher Fitzgerald.

That's a nice way to end a retrospective in a week of extraordinary change: Embracing what's new!

(Kenneth Jones is managing editor of Playbill.com.)

Colman Domingo, Namumba Santos and Roslyn Ruff in <i>Coming Home</i>
Colman Domingo, Namumba Santos and Roslyn Ruff in Coming Home Photo by T. Charles Erickson