Praised New Newspaper Drama, The Story, Closes Dec. 21 at The Public; Moves to Long Wharf in 2004

News   Praised New Newspaper Drama, The Story, Closes Dec. 21 at The Public; Moves to Long Wharf in 2004 Blessed with some of the best reviews in recent seasons for a Public Theater production, Tracey Scott Wilson's The Story will nonetheless end its scheduled run Dec. 21.

The journalism yarn about racism, romance, competition and ethics at an American newspaper was embraced by major critics who called Wilson a provocative, promising young voice. The play features Phylicia Rashad and Erika Alexander as an editor and a young reporter, respectively, sparring at a major metropolitan newspaper.

On Dec. 19, Story director Loretta Greco was announced as the new artistic director of Off-Broadway's Women's Project and Productions. Her job begins Jan. 1, 2004, though she will go back into rehearsal with The Story prior to its run at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven.

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Michael Kuchwara of Associated Press called the work a "riveting, tough-minded drama about race, reporting and the truth." Of the central character, Yvonne, a cub reporter over her head in a murder investigation, Kuchwara wrote, "the playwright paints a compelling portrait of a complicated woman whose desire to succeed overshadows everything else in her life." The play, or so AP thought, was "potent enough to leave theatregoers thinking about The Story for quite a while afterward."

Bruce Weber of the influential New York Times, called the play "a conscientious and absorbing new drama," and praised the director and cast. Rashad, according to Weber, "gives a performance of real depth in a very well-written part," and Alexander gives "a nervy, spot-on performance" and she "clearly understands Ms. Wilson's intention, and together they make The Story compelling."

Internet website reviews cooed, as did NY-1's Roma Torre and the New Jersey Star Ledger (the latter served up a rave).

Four additional weeks were built into The Public run to take the staging into January 2004, but that possible extension isn't being exercised by The Public. The work is a co-production between Long Wharf Theater and The Public, and begins performances at Long Wharf's Stage II in New Haven, CT, as planned Feb. 4, 2004. (It's not yet been announced if the entire cast will continue in New Haven; there is talk in theatre community that Rashad and Alexander will not continue with the project.)

The success of the play seemed to come out of nowhere. Despite the presence of Rashad and Alexander, known for their high-profile TV work, the play developed quietly in rehearsal and previews under the direction of Loretta Greco at the Public's Anspacher Theater.

Houses were not full while the play was in previews Nov. 18-Dec. 9 but once reviews appeared following the Dec. 10 press opening, theatregoers flocked, according to observers attached to the production.

Newspaper display ads also trumpeted the early positive notices. The first couple of days after reviews, one source at the Public said, business was "huge — bigger than the opening night house."

The 10-day run (not counting previews) is not unusual for scheduled engagements at the not-for-profit Public, a spokesperson said. The decision to not extend the run, presumably because of softer-than-expected early sales, came only days after the first reviews appeared. Reviews from weekly publications and other dailies had not yet hit the stands. (Subsequently, the Village Voice raved and John Simon of New York magazine grumbled.)

Behind the scenes, members of the production privately expressed surprise and disappointment their work won't get a chance to thrive longer in the New York sun, Playbill On-Line learned.

Meanwhile, across The Public lobby at the Newman Theatre, the new chamber opera, Caroline, or Change, has extended to Feb. 1, 2004, and a commercial transfer is expected. Public producer George C. Wolfe directs, Tony Kushner is lyricist librettist and Jeanine Tesori is composer.

The Story company includes Kalimi Baxter, Tammi Clayton (as the high-IQ girl-gang member who makes a surprise announcement), Damon Gupton (as a reporter for the paper's African-American section), Michelle Hurst, Stephen Kunken (as an editor of the news section, and lover to Alexander's character), Susan Kelechi Watson and Sarah Grace Wilson (as the twitchy, pregnant wife of a murder victim).

The Story's designers are Robert Brill (scenic), Emilio Sosa (costume), James Vermeulen (lighting) and Rob Kaplowitz (sound).

Visit The Public Theater at www.publictheater.org.

Phylicia Rashad and Erika Alexander in <i>The Story/i&gt;</i>
Phylicia Rashad and Erika Alexander in The Story/i> Photo by Michal Daniel
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