Though his highly-physicalized staging of More Stately Mansions left many American critics cold, if not downright hostile, Belgian director Ivo van Hove will return to New York Theater Workshop in late summer to mount one of the greatest plays of the 20th Century: Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire.
According to NYTW spokesperson Scott Cooke, casting is still underway, with "offers still out" on some of the lead roles.
Artistic director of Amsterdam's Het Zuitelijk Toneel company, the English-speaking Van Hove is well-known for reinterpreting American classics by O'Neill and Williams. When More Stately Mansions played at NYTW in 1997, Randal Lichtenwalner, NYTW's director of audience development, told Playbill On-Line that Van Hove's production had received numerous awards throughout Europe. "Our artistic director, Jim Nicola, saw the play when he was in Amsterdam and was very taken with Van Hove's work."
Mansions needed a longer-than average rehearsal time because he had "to teach the American actors his style of stripping the production down," said Lichtenwalner. "It's different from method acting and other styles American actors are used to. He goes for a heightened, almost dreamlike quality."
Williams's drama, about a poor, dysnfunctional but sexually compatible Southern couple poor forced to cope with a snooty live-in visitor, last had a Broadway mounting starring Alec Baldwin and Jessica Lange. The work is still best-known via Elia Kazan's slightly bowdlerized 1951 film, featuring Vivien Leigh, Kim Hunter and a legendary Marlon Brando. Playing in August/September, Streetcar will be the first show of New York Theater Workshop's 1999-00 season, to be followed by a new solo from Claudia "Blown Sideways Through Life" Shear. This one will feature Shear as campy actress Mae West, with James Lapine directing. Lapine's credits include staging The Diary of Anne Frank a season ago on Broadway.
No other shows are on NYTW's official roster, though a new play by Tony Kushner, Homebody/Kabul, is under consideration. Also, as previously announced, the Stephen Sondheim-John Weidman musical Wise Guys will receive a non-public workshop, October-November. Cabaret's Sam Mendes will direct, with ong-rumored stars Nathan Lane and Victor Garber likely to participate.
The producers -- Scott Rudin, Roger Berlind, Dodger Theatricals and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts -- had a secret reading of the script and score April 30. A spokesman for the Gersh Agency's Bill Butler, who reps Garber, said Wise Guys would arrive in New York in late 1999 and that Lane and Garber would head the cast. In past years, both actors have participated in readings of the musical.
Lane's publicist declined to comment. However, Lane told talk show host David Letterman on Dec. 31, 1998 that he would be acting in a new Sondheim piece come fall. Though he did not mention the name of the musical, it is most likely Wise Guys, the vaudeville-style biography of the eccentric brothers Wilson and Addison Mizner, which the composer has been working on for several years. A spokesperson from Sondheim's office declined to comment on the project (Jan. 4).
Wise Guys was commissioned by the Kennedy Center in DC and was originally scheduled to open in fall 1996. Since then, it has been repeatedly postponed, though at least two readings have been done in New York, one on March 27, 1997 featuring Garber as Wilson, the other on Nov. 8, 1997 with Garber as Wilson and Lane as Addison. Also taking part in the November reading were Debra Monk as Mama Mizner plus an ensemble consisting of Ray Wills, Greg Jbara, William Parry and Randy Graff.
The November reading consisted of most of the first act, including an opening number (which actually consists of four songs, one of them called "Wise Guys"), followed by "Benicia," "Gold," "Next to You," "Addison's Trip Around the World," "Dowagers," "The Good Life" and "The Game."
Both readings were produced by Ira Weitzman.
When it finally opens, Wise Guys will be Sondheim's first complete theatre score since Passion in 1994. The longest previous gap between Sondheim stage musical openings was the five years between Do I Hear a Waltz and Company. Sondheim turned 68 in March.
-- By David Lefkowitz and Robert Simonson