STAGE TO SCREEN: 'Earnest' and 'Proof' Plus Martin's 'Agile'

STAGE TO SCREEN: 'Earnest' and 'Proof' Plus Martin's 'Agile' This month’s biggest movie news by far for theatre buffs is the May 22 opening of “The Importance of Being Earnest,” starring a troika of “Shakespeare in Love” veterans — Rupert Everett, Colin Firth and Judi Dench — along with token American Reese Witherspoon. (That’s not necessarily an insult: Witherspoon’s husband, Ryan Phillippe, was the token American in “Gosford Park,” and he did a fine job.) “Earnest” goes wide May 31, so I’ll devote most of my information to the following column. In the meanwhile, let’s talk about some of the various projects a little further down the horizon, two slated for the big screen and two for the small screen:

This month’s biggest movie news by far for theatre buffs is the May 22 opening of “The Importance of Being Earnest,” starring a troika of “Shakespeare in Love” veterans — Rupert Everett, Colin Firth and Judi Dench — along with token American Reese Witherspoon. (That’s not necessarily an insult: Witherspoon’s husband, Ryan Phillippe, was the token American in “Gosford Park,” and he did a fine job.) “Earnest” goes wide May 31, so I’ll devote most of my information to the following column. In the meanwhile, let’s talk about some of the various projects a little further down the horizon, two slated for the big screen and two for the small screen:

• “Proof”: It’s not 100 percent certain, but reports have all but confirmed that Gwyneth Paltrow will star in the film adaptation. She’s also locked in as the star of the London production, which opens May 15, and reports indicate that she’ll step into the movie role right after she leaves the London company. John Madden will direct both Paltrow permutations for Miramax. At first glance, this seems like typical Hollywood casting: Paltrow is a lot less tormented and a lot more glamorous than Mary-Louise Parker and Jennifer Jason Leigh, the previous Proof leads. Still, I’ve long been a fan of her trickier roles (“Flesh and Bone,” “The Royal Tenenbaums”), and I think she may surprise a lot of people here.

• “The Bomb-itty of Errors”: I was a huge fan of this hip-hop reimagining of Shakespeare when it opened Off-Broadway in 1999, and I’ve been waiting to hear what its creators — a group of overeducated, overcaffeinated NYU kids — would try next. Well, a few years later, MTV has signed them to a new sketch comedy show complete with music videos. Scheduled to launch this fall, the as-yet-unnamed show is contracted for eight episodes. The Bomb-itty gang is packed with talent, and although I haven’t watched MTV for a long time — I can only enjoy 15 minutes or so of “The Osbournes” at a time — I’ll certainly be keeping my eyes peeled for whatever these guys come up with.

• “Picasso at the Lapin Agile”: Steve Martin seems to be about as well-liked as an acerbic intellectual can be in Hollywood. He’s tried his hand in short humor pieces, a novel and the stage (The Underpants) in the last two years or so, but Martin really began to carve out this image as a thinking funnyman in 1994, when his Picasso at the Lapin Agile premiered in Chicago. Now, seven years after it opened Off-Broadway, Martin is bringing “Picasso” to the big screen. And listen to this cast: Martin will be joined by Ryan Phillippe, Juliette Binoche and the sorely, desperately missed Kevin Kline. Fred Schepisi (“Roxanne,” “Six Degrees of Separation”) is slated to start directing in February, and for anyone who appreciates highbrow American humor, the pairing of Kline and Martin promises to be absolutely unbeatable.

• “The Lion in Winter”: After she finishes her run as Blanche DuBois in a London Streetcar Named Desire this fall, Glenn Close will reportedly join Patrick Stewart for a made-for-cable adaptation of the 1966 James Goldman play. Goldman’s screenplay for the 1968 adaptation will also serve as the source of this Showtime film, which is scheduled to shoot in Hungary in early 2003. Having been relatively underwhelmed by a recent revival of the play, I’m in no hurry to see another rendition, but the casting seems right. Incidentally, Stewart will also star in “King of Texas,” an updating of King Lear set in the Wild West. Anthony Mann and Howard Hawks, two legendary directors, had reportedly considered adapting King Lear as a Western, so he may be on to something. “King of Texas” debuts June 2 on TNT.

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By the way, several of this year’s Tony Award nominees are either on the big screen currently or about to pop up there. Double nominee Kate Burton has a small role in “Unfaithful,” and you can catch Gregg Edelman and Andrea Martin in “Hollywood Ending” and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” respectively. Keep your eyes peeled for Alan Bates in “The Sum of All Fears” (May 31, the same weekend as the Tony Awards), Liam Neeson in “K-19: The Peacemaker” (July 19) and Stephen Tobolowsky in “The Country Bears” (July 26). And while we’re on the topic of Tonys, special congratulations to Elaine Stritch and Mamma Mia! librettist Catherine Johnson, both of whom have talked to Stage to Screen in the past.

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Your Thoughts: Which of these upcoming screen projects has you most intrigued? Any thoughts on the Tony nominations?

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