The writer honored in the 2002-03 Signature Theatre Company season is Lanford Wilson and the company's first attraction in a four play season is Burn This. Film actor Edward Norton ("Death to Smoochy") and Catherine Keener ("Being John Malkovich"), along with Dallas Roberts, will star in Burn This, about a volcanically emotional New York restauranteur and the woman he inflicts his attentions upon.
The show, expected to attract a goodly audience, will play the Union Square Theatre, reported the New York Times. Previews begin Aug. 27. Opening is Sept. 19.
As for the rest of the season, Cythia Nixon, recently of The Women, and Mark Nelson will star in the romantic two-hander, Tally's Folly, to be directed by Jo Bonney.
Book of Days and Rain Dance are two plays than began life at Michigan's small Purple Rose Theatre Company. Book was commissioned by the Purple Rose and then played the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis and Hartford Stage. There were hopes of bringing it in to New York, and no transfer ever occured. The story concerns a flinty, outspoken onetime hippie, Martha Hoch, who, swore, chain-smoked and taught at the local Christian college in the small-town Missouri setting. Marshall Mason will direct the New York premiere. Guy Sanville will direct Rain Dance. Rain Dance also played the Purple Rose, in 2001, but didn't get any further than than. The play centers on a young American scientist who leaves New York to work on a top-level project in Los Alamos in 1945.
Wilson's work began being produced in New York in 1963, at places like Caffe Cino and La MaMa, where he and Sam Shephard (a Signature playwright of several seasons back) were contemporaries. Early plays included Rimers of Eldritch and Balm in Gilead, which Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company revived to great acclaim in the early '80s. Wilson's fortunes rose with the '70s, a time which saw the success of such works as Lemon Sky, The Hot l Baltimore and the first two part of his "Talley Trilogy," 5th of July and Talley's Folly. The latter won the Pulitzer Prize.
Many of these works were presented at Circle Repertory Company, a landmark Off-Broadway troupe Wilson co-founded.
The last decade, however, has seen a slow falling off in Wilson's commercial and critical stock. The last play of his to reach Broadway was 1993's Redwood Curtain, which quickly closed to great financial loss and by some accounts helped speed the subsequent demise of Circle Rep. Many of Wilson's most recent efforts — including The Rain Dance, Book of Days and A Sense of Place, or Virgil Is Still the Frog Boy — haven't been seen in New York, debuting instead at such places as the Bay Street Theatre in Long Island and the Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea, MI.