The 2001 Williamstown Theatre Festival's staging of Willy Russell's Educating Rita, which began performances at the Nikos Stage on June 27, will conclude its run July 8. Jacqueline McKenzie plays Rita, the self-improving Cockney hairdresser who hires Frank, a professor, played by Edward Herrmann, to increase her education. It is Frank, however, who ends up benefitting the most, lesson-wise, from the arrangement.
Willy Russell's tender comedy is directed by Bruce Paltrow, father of Gwyneth and husband of Blythe Danner (a frequent stage partner of Herrmann's). Russell recently updated his script, albeit superficially, by added references in the text to such contemporary figures as basketball player Shaquille O'Neill and pop singer Christina Aguilera.
Herrmann has a long history with Williamstown, having appeared in many plays there. His Broadway and Off-Broadway credits include The Deep Blue Sea, Psychopathia Sexualis, Mrs. Warren's Profession (Tony Award), The Philadelphia Story (Tony nomination) and Plenty. The slim, fiery McKenzie is a newcomer to the festival.
"Educating Rita" was made into a well regarded film starring Michael Caine. Russell penned the screenplay.
The Nikos Stage season had its first tenant in A.R. Gurney's new comedy, Buffalo Gal, which ran June 13-24. The Mainstage season, meanwhile, began on June 20 with One Mo' Time, the Vernel Bagneris musical. The show plays through July 1 and is directed by Bagneris, who also stars. Next up is Howard Gould's Diva, July 11 22. *
What better way to spend the summer than in a production of the coolly named A Winter's Tale? Or, so seem to think a collection of seasoned stage actors who appear in director Darko Tresnjak's new mounting of the late Shakespeare drama. The show opened on the Mainstage July 4 and runs through the 15.
John Bedford Lloyd plays Sicilian king Leontes, a man so jealous he is "his own Iago," as Harold Bloom put it. Leontes suspects his wife Hermione, played by Kate Burton (of last season's Broadway-bound Hedda Gabler), of cheating on him with his best friend, Reg. E. Cathey's Polixenes, King of Bohemia. His attendants Antigonus (Tom Bloom) Camillo (Dylan Baker) cannot persuade his otherwise; nor can Antigonus' fiery wife Paulina, here portrayed by the equally fiery Kristine Nielsen.
And so, Hermione unjustly dies and Leontes sends Antigonus with baby princess Perdita with instructions to kill her. He cannot, of course, and Perdita grows up to become Laura Benanti in the care of Bill Smitrovich's Old Shepherd and his clownish son (Christopher Fitzgerald). All is peaceful, until Perdita meets and falls for Florizel (Joel de la Fuente), who is none other than Polixenes' son. Throw in a talking statue and a bear and you've got one of the Bard's oddest and trickiest works.
Tresnjak's approach to the classic is apparently a straightforward one, according to actors in the production. The helmsman has directed widely Off-Broadway and around the New England circuit, at such theatres as the Blue Light Theatre Company (Princess Turanot), Westport Country Playhouse (Turandot again), Long Wharf Theatre (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead), Huntington Theatre Company (Amphitryon), The Vineyard Theatre (More Lies About Jerzy) and the Williamstown Theatre Company (Skin of Our Teeth).
A Winter's Tale way given an applauded mounting in Central Park last summer. Brian Kulick directed. Keith David, Henry Stram and Bill Buell starred.
The remaining season will run as follows:
• The Man Who Had All the Luck, by Arthur Miller, directed by Scott Ellis, July 18-29.
• Street Scene, by Elmer Rice, directed by Michael Grief, Aug. 1-12. Rice's gritty tale of a hot June day and its impact on the inhabitants of a cramped tenement. A cast of 50 is advertised.
• Philadelphia, Here I Come!, by Brian Friel, directed by Kyle Donnelly, Aug. 15-26. Friel's tale of an young Irish man (and his alter ego) trying to make peace with his homeland and his father before setting off for America.
• Diva, by Howard M. Gould, directed by Neel Keller, July 11-22. A workshop production of a comedy about a spoiled film actress trying to break into television. Bebe Neuwirth, Eric Bogosian and John Michael Higgins star.
• The Dumb Waiter by Harold Pinter and The Zoo Story by Edward Albee, directed by Joe Mantello, July 25-Aug. 5. Two classic one-acts from two authors, one British and one American, deeply influenced by Samuel Beckett.
• Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Toward the Somme, by Frank McGuinness, directed by Nicholas Martin, Aug. 9-19. A drama about eight Irish nationalists serving in World War I.
In addition to the above productions, a workshop of Beth Blatt and Jenny Giering's new musical The Mistress Cycle is planned. The show takes a look at the life of mistresses around the world and down through the years. Audra McDonald recorded Giering's "I Follow" on her album "Way Back to Paradise." Also to be workshopped is Donald Margulies' latest, God of Vengeance. The adaptation of the Yiddish classic premiered at Seattle's A Contemporary Theatre in spring 2000. As in Seattle, Gordon Edelstein directs.
The festival also features a weekly reading series, with new plays being given an airing every Friday at 3 PM since June 29.
—By Robert Simonson