STAGE TO SCREEN: Stoppard's "Raiders" & Oklahoma! Star's New Film

News   STAGE TO SCREEN: Stoppard's "Raiders" & Oklahoma! Star's New Film Assuming I’ve gotten a good night’s sleep and my week wasn’t too draining, I’d probably choose Tom Stoppard over any other contemporary playwright on a night-to-night basis. Over Mamet, over Shepard, over Kushner, over Pinter. Possibly over Arthur Miller. (Is Arcadia a better play than Death of a Salesman? I suppose not, but it’s close.) Tom Stoppard is the best out there.

Assuming I’ve gotten a good night’s sleep and my week wasn’t too draining, I’d probably choose Tom Stoppard over any other contemporary playwright on a night-to-night basis. Over Mamet, over Shepard, over Kushner, over Pinter. Possibly over Arthur Miller. (Is Arcadia a better play than Death of a Salesman? I suppose not, but it’s close.) Tom Stoppard is the best out there.

It took me a few tries before I could watch all of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” without diving under my seat (I was nine when it came out), but it quickly became my favorite movie. When people keen and pine and wail over the “Star Wars” movies, I’m always a little befuddled. Even taking that nasty “Temple of Doom” into account, Indiana Jones is the arrested development franchise for me.

So what to make of the news that Stoppard has been approached to work on the fourth Indiana Jones movie, as Playbill On-Line mentioned earlier this week? (Stoppard recently did some uncredited rewrites for Harrison Ford’s upcoming submarine thriller, “K-19: The Widowmaker,” and performed similar duties on the third Indiana Jones film.) Tepid elation is probably the best way to describe it. Everyone from Chris Columbus to M. Night Shyamalan, with many other writers along the way, have taken a crack at this project since 1994. Putting this together is contingent on getting Ford and Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas to work out a window of time and a script they’re content with. No small feat.

Also, a projected start date of 2004 has been announced. Harrison Ford will be 62 at that point. That’s only seven years younger than Sean Connery was when he played Indy’s dad. Coupled with Stoppard’s penchant for sophisticated repartee, this may keep the action quotient down somewhat. That may not be such a bad thing — the idea of anyone in their sixties wearing a fedora and a bullwhip strikes me as a bit off — but then what’s the point of doing another Indiana Jones movie? So, we’ll see what happens, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up just yet. (Of course, that’s what I said about “Chicago” for years, and we’re only eight months from seeing Roxie and Velma on the big screen.)

Anyway, Stoppard appears to have enjoyed working with “Shakespeare in Love” director John Madden. The two are tentatively scheduled to tackle “Tulip Fever,” a romantic drama set in 17th-century Amsterdam. If that falls through, the tandem is also in the running to make a screen adaptation of “Atonement,” by one of Britain’s finest writers in a long while, Ian McEwan. And don’t forget Stoppard’s trilogy of Russia plays, due at the Royal National sometime this year. And don’t forget Madden directing Gwyneth Paltrow in a West End Proof this summer. ***

Stoppard isn’t the only playwright to catch the film industry’s eye of late. Peter Ackerman, who recently spoke to this column about co-writing “Ice Age,” is being wooed by Columbia to take a crack at a “Jumanji” sequel, according to Variety. And Jose Rivera (Marisol, Cloud Tectonics) is adapting Che Guevara’s diaries as a young man for the Spanish-language film “The Motorcycle Diaries,” focusing on the young Guevara’s travels around South America in the early 1950's. Up-and-coming actor Gael Garcia Bernal — he was the less affluent boy in “Y Tu Mama Tambien” — will star as Che.

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I have a confession to make. I had intended to bring you Mira Sorvino and the newly knighted Sir Ben Kingsley for this column. Sadly, my day job pulled me from a “Triumph of Love” press junket before I could do anything more than give Ms. Sorvino a friendly nod. I did, however, speak briefly with the charming Clare Peploe, who directed and co-wrote the film, based on Marivaux’s best-known romance. She said she saw and loved the 1999 Almeida mounting of the play, with a translation by Martin Crimp, but didn’t have time to recommend the production to her friends: “It was the last day, unfortunately! So I was almost obliged to make a movie out of it instead.” She bought the rights to Crimp’s translation and developed the screenplay.

She also described how Sir Ben (one of the junket publicists firmly requested that we call him “Sir Ben”) had envisioned Hermocrates, his rational philosopher undone by love, as “very much a Malvolio sort of character.” She discussed the travails of filming on location in Tuscany. (Not much sympathy there, I’m afraid.) And she expanded on her decision to shoot in Super-16, which is a very modern and rough film stock. “It’s almost as if I wanted a cinema verite shot in the 18th century,” she said. “Very rough, very free. Sort of a dance between theatre and film.” All in all, she was extremely engaging and bright, and I could fashion an extremely solid column from her remarks, and I hate myself for wanting to talk to movie stars instead. I’ll try to get you guys somebody famous soon.

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As you may have noticed, I always enjoy looking at upcoming releases and seeing which prominent theatre stars will be represented on the big screen. It’s doubly fun when the actors are currently onstage, allowing audiences to catch them both places in one day. Well, a bumper crop of double features await any New York readers.

Anyone eager to see the talented Aasif Mandvi in something a little more substantial than his role as Ali Hakim in Oklahoma! will get your wish May 3, when he takes a starring role in “The Mystic Masseur.” The limited-release drama has quite a pedigree: It’s directed by Ismail Merchant and based on a novel by newly minted Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul. And while you’re waiting for Rosemary Harris to open in Edward Albee’s All Over at the Roundabout’s Gramercy Theatre, you can see her as Spidey’s kindly Aunt May in “Spider-Man” (May 3 in what is decidedly not a limited release). Although the All Over opening date is still undetermined — and I will be very sorry to see The Dazzle leave that space — it’s safe to say that “Spider-Man” will still be running at that point.

Unfortunately, the most titillating pairing just fell by the wayside. Margaret Colin has a supporting role in the Richard Gere-Diane Lane erotic thriller “Unfaithful,” which opens May 10. Colin was originally to star in House and Garden, the intertwined Alan Ayckbourn plays currently previewing at Manhattan Theatre Club, but she recently dropped out. So we will be denied the opportunity to see Colin in the matinee of Garden, say, and then smuggle a sandwich into “Unfaithful” before running to the evening performance of House. Ah, well. Seeing Harris tackle Albee and Spidey on the same day should be entertaining enough.

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My Favorite Thought: I’m glad to see that many of you share my interest in seeing Fences make it to the big screen. But as Joseph points out, it hasn’t done so yet for a reason:

“The main reason ‘Fences’ has not been filmed for theatrical or television release is because of a clause in the contract for the rights, which says that an African-American must direct the project. Not a lot of black directors in Hollywood these days. Couple that with the fact that Eddie Murphy's career (he holds the rights) has blossomed again — remember where he was 15 years ago? 'Harlem Nights,' anybody? — and it would seem like the project has stalled, maybe for good. Oh, well.”

Your Thoughts: Here’s a thought: Since Eddie Murphy seems content to focus on kiddie movies, and since “Panic Room” has boosted the stock of Forest Whitaker (who’s also a proven director), maybe Whitaker could devise himself a vehicle to direct and star in. Now that I think of it, he’s not a bad choice at all. Anyway, what would you like to see Tom Stoppard tackle next? Indiana Jones, Russian intellectuals or tulips? And what’s the most incongruous simultaneous stage-and-screen combo you can think of? Philip Bosco doing both Copenhagen and “Shaft” was right up/down there for me.

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