STAGE TO SCREEN: Finding the Fortune in Fortune's Fool

STAGE TO SCREEN: Finding the Fortune in Fortune's Fool In the year or so since Rita Gam approached producer Julian Schlossberg with the idea of mounting Mike Poulton’s 1996 adaptation of the little-known Ivan Turgenev play Fortune’s Fool on Broadway, a lot of possibilities have surfaced. One idea was to put a company together for a stage production and then, if all went well, convert the piece into a filmable screenplay.

In the year or so since Rita Gam approached producer Julian Schlossberg with the idea of mounting Mike Poulton’s 1996 adaptation of the little-known Ivan Turgenev play Fortune’s Fool on Broadway, a lot of possibilities have surfaced. One idea was to put a company together for a stage production and then, if all went well, convert the piece into a filmable screenplay.

"It always was designed to be a movie. It still is. That’s one of the reasons Arthur Penn was brought in [to direct]," says Schlossberg, who includes Penn in a very short list of directors who are equally comfortable in theatre and film. (Basically, it was Penn, Elia Kazan and Mike Nichols.)

The first half of the equation appears to have worked out well enough: Although Fortune’s Fool has been averaging an underwhelming 55 percent attendance, the two Tony wins for co-stars Alan Bates and Frank Langella will presumably increase the play’s viability.

In terms of immediate ramifications, however, the Tony wins won’t result in a rush to get Fortune’s Fool filmed. In fact, the priorities may have been tweaked somewhat. From the beginning, Schlossberg says, the plan has been to film "Fortune's Fool" six months to a year after the stage production runs its course. But Schlossberg and his fellow producers are in the process of putting together a U.S. tour of at least seven cities, and Langella announced at the Tony press room that Fool may also travel to London in the fall. Not so fast, says Schlossberg. "I think it’s a terrific play for London," he says, but nothing is definite at this point. "It is, as they say, ‘a strong possibility.’"

So with London and a U.S. tour potentially on the horizon, it may be well over a year before Bates, Langella and Penn revisit “Fool” on the big screen. “It certainly wouldn’t be before 2003 and, most likely, the fall of 2003,” Schlossberg says. “You have a major asset that everyone wants. Several U.S. cities want it. London wants it. The film wants it. And we have to decide which is going to come first and when. “If you’ve been around as Alan and Frank have, and as Arthur has, and as I have, you know that a lot of things get talked about. We came in with just one guarantee — that we were going to Broadway. After that, you hope.”

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It appears that the news about Tom Stoppard tackling the fourth "Indiana Jones" movie was a tad premature. According to Variety, both Stoppard and M. Night Shyamalan have passed on the project. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas didn't waste any time landing Frank Darabont ("The Shawshank Redemption," "The Majestic") to sign on as writer, with a target release date of summer 2005. Darabont has had considerable involvement with the various "Young Indiana Jones" projects, and he recently worked with Spielberg on the "Minority Report" script, so there's a past history to draw upon. Still, as someone who has now opted not to watch Darabont's "The Majestic" on two different flights, I find it hard to get too worked up about this latest piece of news.

Stoppard, meanwhile, appears to have shifted to a whole different film franchise. He will supposedly begin work on "His Dark Materials" for New Line Cinema in late summer, right around when his Coast of Utopia trilogy opens at London's National Theatre. New Line clearly would love to turn "His Dark Materials," an acclaimed series of fantasy books by Philip Pullman — "The Amber Spyglass" is probably the best known of the three so far — into a "Lord of the Rings"/"Harry Potter"-esque franchise, and it sounds like Stoppard has free rein to draw from all three books in writing his script (or scripts).

Fantasy is hardly my cup of tea, and I'd much rather see Stoppard focus his film energies on things like "Shakespeare in Love" or "Empire of the Sun" — or Indiana Jones, for that matter. But judging from the Coast of Utopia excerpt that Stoppard read at the 92nd Street Y last year, it's hard to blame him for wanting to take a bit of a mental break (and earn a handsome paycheck in the process). Just hurry back, please.

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Edie Falco and Julia Stiles — due to open in Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune and the Central Park Twelfth Night, respectively — have parts in movies opening in the next two weeks. Stiles will appear in "The Bourne Identity," opening June 14, and the following week will see Falco in "Sunshine State," written and directed by John Sayles. As longtime readers may remember, I'm always titillated by the idea of an actor doing TV, film and theatre simultaneously; Len Cariou and Philip Bosco are among those who have done it in the past. If both Frankie and Johnny and "Sunshine State" can stay open until September 15, when "The Sopranos" begins its fourth season, Falco will join those ranks.

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Back when "Sexy Beast" came out last year, some readers wrote me pointing out that it was based on a play by Louis Mellis and David Scinto. As it happened, it wasn't — the writers had originally begun adapting their play Gangster No. 1 for director David Glazer, but that production ran aground, and Mellis and Scinto instead brought Glazer a separate work of theirs that would become "Sexy Beast." Why am I bringing this up now? Because "Gangster No. 1" has resurfaced, this time starring Malcolm McDowell as an evil bald English crime boss not unlike the one Ben Kingsley played in "Sexy Beast." It opens June 14 in New York and Los Angeles.

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Your Thoughts: I asked for some background information on two new independent films with stage backgrounds, and as usual, you guys have swooped in with lots of useful information. Ted weighed in on the upcoming film "24th Day":

"24th Day ran in March and April 1996 at the Coronet Theater in Los Angeles and was a two-character drama about a man who holds a second man hostage because he is convinced that the other gave him HIV, although the second man doesn't remember him since the supposed incident occurred some six years earlier. The pair have remet at a bar, and Tom (Peter Berg) takes Dan (Noah Wyle) home, where Tom restrains Dan (handcuffs him to a chair) and then forcibly draws a vial of Dan's blood to have it tested for HIV. Over the next 48 hours, while Tom holds Dan hostage and awaits the test results, the men argue, talk, fight, etc. What emerges is that Tom claims that Dan is the only man with whom he's had sex and Dan claims that he has been tested for HIV on a regular basis and has always tested negative, although Tom catches Dan in several lies, so the issue becomes who is telling the truth. The show received modest notices. For the film, the writer director has added additional characters (with Jeremy Davies among those in supporting roles)."

And Mark performed similar duties on the current low-budget offering "My Big Fat Greek Wedding":

"I am in L.A. right now and have heard that actress Rita Wilson (Greek herself and Tom Hanks' wife) attended a performance of the stage piece in a small theatre out here. She loved it and sent her husband to see it. Apparently, Nia Vardalos did not believe that it was Tom Hanks on the phone when he called to option it for a film; it is unclear whether he and his wife had intended Rita Wilson to star, but Vardalos made it clear that this was her star vehicle. Now she's a star! Good for her!"

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Your Thoughts: Thanks for the help, everyone. So here’s a question for all you non-New Yorkers: Would you rather see Fortune’s Fool make its way as a U.S. tour or go straight to the film adaptation? And which film franchise would Tom Stoppard be least suited to writing? While we’re at it, pick a flagging franchise that could benefit from Stoppard’s touch and one that could benefit from David Mamet.

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