STAGE TO SCREEN: Contact, "Tsotsi" and Your Thoughts

STAGE TO SCREEN: Contact, "Tsotsi" and Your Thoughts In part because not much is going on and in part because I've been glutted with letters, I'm giving over much of my space to you guys this week. A few theatre-themed entries are due out in the weeks to come, but for the time being, let me start with a few quick news bulletins and then move on to y'all.

In part because not much is going on and in part because I've been glutted with letters, I'm giving over much of my space to you guys this week. A few theatre-themed entries are due out in the weeks to come, but for the time being, let me start with a few quick news bulletins and then move on to y'all.

***

• As reported on Playbill On-Line last week, PBS will follow up its airing of “The Women” with a live broadcast of the final performance of Contact on Sept. 1. PBS’ “Stage on Screen” series debuted with a live Man Who Came to Dinner, but this is totally different. Musicals are a lot trickier from a logistical standpoint. What if the dancers miss their mark? What if the swing breaks? What if the musicians miss their cue? Oh, wait, this is Contact. What if the sound guy forgets to press “PLAY?”

***

• A recent article in Variety about Echo Lake Productions tangentially mentioned that the company held the film rights to “Tsotsi,” a novel by none other than Athol Fugard. I had no idea that such a novel existed, but sure enough, Fugard released “Tsotsi” in 1980. It’s about the last six days in the life of a brutal gang leader, and various entities have apparently tried to get it in front of cameras for some time now. The article didn’t give any sort of timetable, so I wouldn’t expect anything in the immediate future. Still, I’ll keep my ear to the ground for news. ***

• This week's collection of stage notables in new films includes a few actors currently winding down their stage runs. Two weeks before Smelling a Rat closes — and everyone in or near New York is highly encouraged to head over to West 42nd Street before July 14 — Michelle Williams will also appear in the limited-release drama "Me Without You." Peter Gallagher can be seen until July 14 in Noises Off and starting June 28 in "Mr. Deeds." And Jennifer Jason Leigh leaves the cast of Proof on June 30, two days after she (well, her voice) appears in "Hey Arnold! The Movie." Fellow "Hey Arnold" voice Christopher Lloyd also left a Broadway show recently (Morning's at Seven), but he was just heading up to Central Park for this summer's star-packed Twelfth Night.

***

• As more than one of you pointed out, I (briefly) had some misinformation in the last column. Samantha Mathis is starring in The Man Who Had All the Luck, not Samantha Morton of "Minority Report." Thanks, everyone.

***

When I bang out the "Your Thoughts" questions at the end of each column, I never really know which will get a chorus of responses and which will be met with (relative) silence. For some reason, the last batch fell into the former category, so here are a few of my favorite responses.

In light of Tom Stoppard's initial interest in the Indiana Jones franchise and subsequent decision to adapt the "His Dark Materials" fantasy trilogy, I raised the question of which franchises would be unusually well (or poorly) suited to either Stoppard or David Mamet. Seth (rightly) pointed out that the "American Pie" movies wouldn't be Stoppard's cup of tea. He did, however, think of a film franchise that would benefit from the assistance of both Stoppard and Mamet:

"I’d kinda like to see Stoppard and Mamet team up on a James Bond movie. The last few movies have been somewhat blah, and the next one, despite the presence of Halle Berry, doesn’t sound too thrilling. With Mamet’s gift for twisty, elaborate plots and Stoppard’s . . . well, Stoppardness, I think they could work wonders. Whether they could work together is another question entirely."

Tim also wanted to see Stoppard's take on 007; he pointed out the added attraction of seeing the author paired with fellow "Shakespeare in Love" Oscar-winner Judi Dench, who's handled the role of M since 1995's "GoldenEye."

Here are two other suggestions, courtesy of Orin:

"I think David Mamet should write a story concerning the criminal underbelly of the Planet Tatooine, with Jabba the Hut as the central character. I think that with his talents for looking at the criminal mind in any surroundings, this offshoot of 'Star Wars' might be fun to watch. As for Tom Stoppard, he can do anything, but I think I would like to see him try to adapt 'The Real Inspector Hound' into either a film or television project. I can see this as a low-budget independent film with someone like Bill Irwin playing Hound."

And the least likely project? John would just as soon see Stoppard steer clear of the about-to-resume "Terminator" series: "I can barely type this while thinking of Arnold S. trying to wrap his accent around Stoppard's English. 'Dogg's Hamlet II?'"

Zev, meanwhile, made a point of defending the source material of Stoppard's next film project:

"Having read the first two parts of the 'His Dark Materials' trilogy, I must tell you that it is a highly intellectual series, very well suited to Stoppard's talents. Certainly more interesting than 'Indiana Jones.' And I would love to see Mamet work on 'Batman.'"

More interesting than "Indiana Jones"?! Sacrilege. Well, I'll give it a try. In other news, Alex had a question about Neil LaBute's next film project:

"Have you heard anything about the upcoming feature called 'Possession,' starring Gwyneth Paltrow? It's set to be released in September. The premise sounds suspiciously like Stoppard's Arcadia. Two modern academics paralleled with the historical subjects they are studying, moving back and forth from historical to modern times? Could this be a loose adaptation? I doubt Mr. Stoppard would allow such a bastardization of one of his many masterpieces. Any thoughts?"

"Possession" has come up briefly once or twice in this column, but not for reasons that have anything to do with Stoppard. I agree that the two projects have a lot in common, and we're apparently not the only ones: A cursory Web search shows Arcadia and the Booker Prize-winning A.S. Byatt novel discussed in tandem at academic conferences, in college classes — at Middlebury College and Missouri Western State College, among others — and various other places. But it is clearly not an adaptation of Arcadia. (In fact, Stoppard's play premiered three years after "Possession" was published, so the tribute would appear to go in the other direction.)

No, the reason I've mentioned "Possession" is because of the LaBute connection. Among Paltrow's co-stars are such stage denizens as Jennifer Ehle and Toby Stephens; Ralph Fiennes was originally to play Paltrow's romantic interest, but the role ultimately went to frequent LaBute collaborator Aaron Eckhart. Note: The release date for "Possession" has bounced around four or five times in the last year, which is rarely a good sign.

Your Thoughts: Has anyone out there read "Tsotsi?" How is it? And what are your thoughts on the "Stage on Screen" series so far? Have they found the right blend of live, taped, new and old?

—Eric Grode is New York bureau chief of Show Music magazine, assistant editor of The Sondheim Review and a theatre critic for Back Stage.