David Hirson's new comedy, Wrong Mountain, has its world premiere at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theatre, Oct. 27. Directed by Richard Jones, this new work by the author of La Bete began previews Oct. 21 for a West Coast run through Nov. 21.
The New York City-bound show boasts a number of recent Broadway performers on board, among them Ron Rifkin, Daniel Jenkins (Big) and Ilana Levine. Wrong Mountain will start Broadway previews Dec. 3 and open Dec. 14 at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre.
Larry Pine (Bus Stop at Circle in the Square) and Tom Riis Farrell (1776) are in the cast, alongside Beth Dixon, Bruce Norris, Reg Flowers, Pippa Pearthree, Daniel Davis, Jody Gelb, Anne Dudek and Mary Schmidtberger.
Rifkin, a veteran stage and television actor, saw his career accelerate after his acclaimed performance in The Substance of Fire. Since then he's won a Tony for his work in the Roundabout's Cabaret. His other Broadway roles include A Month In The Country and Broken Glass.
Actress Levine was relatively unknown until she was picked to play Lucy in last season's revival of You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown. She also appeared on Broadway in Alfred Uhry's The Last Night of Ballyhoo. Designing Wrong Mountain are Giles Cadle (set and costumes), Jennifer Tipton (lighting) and John Gromada (sound).
The A.C.T. press release describes The Wrong Mountain thusly: "With touches of surrealism and hints of science fiction (a 40-pound, intestine eating worm and an intoxicating elixir called `lithia water' figure prominently in the plot), the story...concerns an utterly pretentious obscure poet [Rifkin], his ex-wife's new husband, a fabulously successful, lightweight playwright; a new-plays festival situated in the middle of nowhere, and the absolute horror and pleasure of unwanted, yet coveted, overnight success."
In 1991, La Bete, a rare contemporary verse comedy about an acting troupe forced to compromise its artistic integrity, brought playwright Hirson to Broadway. Reviews were generally good but the play, directed by Jones, had difficulty finding an audience.
In an Oct. 24 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Hirson noted that the commercial failure of La Bete accounted for his long absence from the footlights. "I went through quite a long period when I was paralyzed," he said, adding that he began thinking in terms of "the image of a man who was being consumed by some kind of parasite, and I really didn't know what that image meant or where it would lead me. And it's one of the reasons I suppose that I launched myself into this second play, to find out what that meant."
Dodger Endemol Theatrical Productions sponsored a reading of Wrong Mountain in early August 1998 in midtown Manhattan. Among the actors: Tony winner Alan Cumming, Joyce Van Patten (Labor Day) and the aforementioned Rifkin and Pine.
Unlike La Bete, Wrong Mountain is set in modern times and is not in verse. Actor Pine told Playbill On-Line (Aug. 6, 1998), "The play is about an unrecognized poet and his intellectual family. There's also this famous Broadway playwright, who's married to the poet's ex-wife. The playwright bets the poet $100,000 he can't write a play, but the poet does -- and it turns out to be really good."
Asked in August 1998 about The Wrong Mountain's future prospects, Pine said, "Well, this is the next step. The first readings we did, the play was 178 pages long. Now its 149 pages. I figure once it's in the 110 range... This is honestly the best play I've read since Angels in America."
For information on the A.C.T. season call (415) 749-2228.
-- By David Lefkowitz