Back in August 1998, producers Elizabeth McCann and Daryl Roth were planning to revive Edward Albee's complex 1965 drama, Tiny Alice, on Broadway. They had a director, Mark Lamos, and a star, Richard Thomas, who appeared in the show's hit revival at Connecticut's Hartford Stage earlier that year. A female lead proved harder to find, however, and the production never materialized.
Lamos and Thomas stayed with the project, though, and it was eventually scheduled to open the 2000-01 season of Off-Broadway's Second Stage Theatre. As such, an Alice has been finally been found. As reported by the New York Times and confirmed by her agent at Paradigm (reached Sept. 22), Laila Robins will co-star. Previews begin Nov. 16, with an opening targeted for early December and a run through the end of this year.
Last on Broadway in The Herbal Bed, Robins has been busy in the regionals. She just finished a run as Hedda Gabler at MN's Guthrie Theatre, where she'd previously appeared in Summer and Smoke. She went to the New Jersey's McCarter last season in order to act in Shepard's Fool for Love and to Chicago's Steppenwolf a couple seasons back to play Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire. Perhaps her best-known New York role was playing opposite Uta Hagen in Mrs. Klein.
As for co-star Thomas, in June 1998 he won Boston's Elliot Norton Lifetime Achievement Award. He's a Hartford Stage veteran and had previously played Hamlet and Peer Gynt there. Broadway credits include The Fifth of July and Strange Interlude, though Thomas remains best known for playing John-Boy on TV's "The Waltons."
In Tiny Alice, Thomas plays the lead role of Brother Julian, a man of the church seduced by Alice's sexuality and wealth. The original production of Tiny Alice was presented on Broadway in December 1965, with John Gielgud and Irene Worth under the direction of Alan Schneider. Playwright Albee has been enjoying a renaissance since 1994 when his Three Tall Woman won him his third Pulitzer Prize. His A Delicate Balance got a Tony-winning revival on Broadway; his Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf had an award-winning London remounting in 1996.
In Second Stage Theatre's November Newsletter, Albee notes that he's edited the final speech in Tiny Alice because "it was too long — a young author's self-indulgence." He adds the hope that audiences will be "less bewildered than they were in 1963, and I think they will still be intrigued, puzzled and fascinated."
For his part, actor Thomas pointed to the themes of sexuality, abandonment and anxiety in the play as being its most potent qualities. "The sexual energy involved in all other kinds of relationships is very much at the core of the play," he said in a Second Stage Newsletter interview. "It's very satisfying and yet very illusive. Just when you think the core of the play is within your grasp, it takes a turn."
As for the rest of the Second Stage season, Cellini, with author John Patrick Shanley also directing, is scheduled to start previews Jan. 23, 2001. No word on casting yet for the show, which is being co-produced by CA's Mark Taper Forum. Cellini examines Renaissance sculptor Benvenuto Cellini and his attempt to make great art while pleasing his benefactor, Pope Clement VII.
Beth Henley's Crimes of the Heart is scheduled for a revival, with previews starting April 3, 2001. Henley's play about kooky Southern sisters has remained a staple of regional and community playhouses. More recent plays have included the poorly-received Family Week this season and last year's Impossible Marriage at the Roundabout. Other Henley works include The Wake of Jamey Foster (on Broadway in 1982) and The Miss Firecracker Contest. The surprising news here is that Garry Hynes, Tony-winning director of The Beauty Queen of Leenane, will helm the 1981 show.
The final show of the Second Stage season will be Once Around the City, a new musical by Willie and Robert Reale. The production -- to be directed by Mark Linn-Baker (who will be acting artistic director of the theatre for six months beginning in January 2001) and choreographed by Jennifer Muller -- will begin previews June 12, 2001.
City, set in the 1980's, is described as an antidote to the "greed decade." The central story pits a yuppie real estate agent against an advocate of the homeless. Romance, comedy, Reaganomics and a jazzy score are mixed into the show.
The brothers Reale have written six musicals together, including Quark Victory, which played at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 1999. That quirky tuner centered around a teenage girl named Samantha who takes an amazing journey into the nucleus of an atom. Karen Ziemba and Wilson Jermaine Heredia starred in the production.
For ticket and subscription information call Second Stage Theatre at (212) 787-5600.
In other Second Stage news, the company's much-acclaimed production of August Wilson's Jitney ended its run at the home venue Sept. 10 and reopened Sept. 19 at the larger Union Square Theatre.
Lauded by the New York Drama Critics Circle as the Best Play of the year, Jitney received unanimously strong reviews and won a special, non- competitive award from the Drama Desk for Outstanding Ensemble Performance. The show, which started previews April 8 and opened April 25 at Second Stage, was originally supposed to run through May 21 and then extended through July 16. The last extension had been through Sept. 3, with another week added once the transfer was announced.
The Jitney commute was effectuated by the closing of the Union Square's last tenant, The Laramie Project, Sept. 2. According to the Richard Kornberg press office, Jitney traveled from a 299-seat house to a 499-seat space -- a real show of confidence in a play that had already been running nearly five months in midtown. Even before the latter show opened, Center Theatre Group and producer Ben Mordecai, in association with Second Stage, knew they had the right either to move the show or keep it at Second Stage until early fall.
Prior to New York, Jitney began subscription previews Jan. 23 at the Mark Taper Forum and opened there Feb. 3 for a run through March 19.
Directed by Marion McClinton, the cast of Jitney includes (in alphabetic order), Russell Andrews, Willis Burks II, Paul Butler, Anthony Chisholm, Leo V. Finnie III, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Barry Shabaka Henley, Keith Randolph Smith and Nichole Briana White.
The first play written by Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Wilson, Jitney offers a look into 1970s Pittsburgh and the lives of a group of black men scraping out a living in a gypsy cab company (or jitney station). The play's central character, Charles Becker, is the owner of the unlicensed company who must deal with the city's plan to board up his business. He's also thrown by his the return of his son, Booster (Lumbly), after 20 years in prison. Other Wilson works include Two Trains Running, Seven Guitars and Fences.
For tickets ($51) and information on Jitney at Second Stage Theatre, 307 West 43rd Street, call (212) 246-4422.
In further Second Stage news, as mentioned above, actor Mark Linn-Baker, best known for his years on TV's "Perfect Strangers" and work in filmdom's "My Favorite Year" has been tapped by artistic director Carole Rothman to oversee the company while she takes a half-year vacation, starting January 2001.
A co-founder of New York Stage and Film, Linn-Baker was last seen OB in Chesapeake (a commercial production at the Second Stage space) and had recent Broadway roles in A Flea in Her Ear and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. A Second Stage spokesperson at the Richard Kornberg press office didn't know whether Linn-Baker would be choosing any shows for the following season or simply overseeing the Jan-Aug. 2001 slate chosen by Rothman, as well as directing Once Around the City.
-- By David Lefkowitz