Tony Randall founded the National Actors Theatre 10 years ago with the idea of putting on classic plays with a seasoned, European-style ensemble of performers, all on Broadway.
But it's been a rocky road for the company from the very first, with many productions poorly received and its most successful ones (Inherit the Wind, Judgment at Nuremberg) plagued by actors' illnesses. Many observers have, from time to time, expected the NAT to dissolve, only to see it valiantly return yet again with another offering.
Well, NAT and Randall will live to fight another day, but the battleground is no longer Broadway. The company will take up residency at Pace University’s Michael Schimmel Theater Center. Randall plans a 40 week LORT season of four-to-six plays beginning in the fall.
According to a casting notice, the instrument of NAT's rebirth will be Bertolt Brecht's The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui. Simon McBurney will direct. McBurney is the head of the British Theatre de Complicite, which has been praised on this side of the Atlantic for its highly conceptual, visually stunning productions of The Chairs, Street of Crocodiles and Mnemonic. McBurney's theatrical approach will doubtless represent a departure from the straight-ahead, literal staging which has characterized NAT's work for the last decade.
The dark, satiric 1941 work is Brecht's response to Hitler and the Nazis. The play characters include simultaneously nightmarish and laughable takes on Hitler, Goering and Goebbels. Arturo Ui is from Brecht's most fecund writing period, the years when he produced Mother Courage and Her Children and The Life of Galileo. CSC presented a production of the play in 1991, starring John Turturro, Zach Grenier and David Patick Kelly
When NAT first began in 1991, it scheduled full seasons, selling subscriptions and making one Broadway theatre (first the Belasco, then the Lyceum) its home. But bad reviews and financial troubles soon saw the theatre producing plays fitfully. Recent Broadway seasons have seen only one NAT production. In 2001-2002, none were scheduled.
The Pace deal, while taking down costs (the university is offering the auditorium and office space rent free) and lending the company the security of a permanent home, would seem to make NAT’s Broadway days a thing of the past.
Pace president David A. Caputo told Variety Randall would teach at Pace and consider students for roles in NAT productions.
Early NAT shows included The Seagull with Tyne Daly, Ethan Hawke, Laura Linney and Jon Voight; The Master Builder with Earle Hyman and Lynn Redgrave; Saint Joan with Maryann Plunkett. In recent years, as the NAT has operated in a more casual manner, presenting a play whenever the needed elements and talent were brought together, productions have included The Gin Game with Julie Harris and Charles Durning; Night Must Fall with Matthew Broderick; and Inherit the Wind, featuring the last Broadway performance of George C. Scott.
—By Robert Simonson