With all due respect to Kevin Kline and the acting Everest that is King Lear, odds are that the Iron Actor trophy for the second half of the 2006-07 Off-Broadway season will go to F. Murray Abraham for simultaneously talking on the leads in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice and Marlowe's The Jew of Malta.
The two Elizabethan classics, written within a decade of each other in the late 1500s, are both being produced by Theatre for a New Audience and will play in repertory. Abraham will play Shylock in the Shakespeare, and Barabas in the latter. The twin attractions will undoubtedly inspire a half a dozen think pieces in the dailies and weeklies, since the playwrights' portrayals of their central Jewish characters have made each work controversial over the years. (The Marlowe drama is thought to have influenced Shakespeare's effort, which probably premiered a few years after the former's death.) The minds of audience members, too, may be stirred. Most are, of course, familiar with the oft-mounted Merchant, but the seldom seen Malta will no doubt provide a theatrical education of sorts. Both shows open Feb. 4.
Previews for the above-mentioned Lear will begin five days later at the Public Theater. Any Shakespeare Kline puts his hand to is anticipated with excitement, and the tragedy some call Will's greatest will probably be no exception. The last time Kline spoke iambic pentameter—as Falstaff in Henry IV at Lincoln Center—roses rained down on the stage. James Lapine, a man not typically known as a classics director, will guide the new effort. He's drafted his pal Sondheim to pen some music (Sunday on the Heath With Lear?). Opening is March 18.
The Spanish Play, due at CSC, sounds like a play written around the time of Shakespeare and Marlowe, but it's actually a contemporary work written by Moliere's countrywoman, playwright Yasmina Reza. Reza hasn't aimed low; the play purports to follow in the footsteps of reality-blurring master Pirandello. The casting director has likewise been ambitious: the troupe includes legendary actress Zoe Caldwell, as well as Linda Emond, Denis O'Hare and Larry Pine. John Turturro—who seems to have enjoyed his time acting in Reza's Life x 3—directs. Opening is Feb. 1.
Over at the Signature Theatre Company, the popular August Wilson season continues with a different regent: King Hedley II, a late Wilson play that will begin Feb. 20. Signature's Seven Guitars and Two Trains Running were both hits. The company will try to make it three in a row with this 1980s-set offering. Often overlooked, late-19th-century British playwright Harley Granville-Barker is having his greatest New York season in ages. While The Voysey Inheritance continues its hit run at the Atlantic Theatre Company, the Mint Theatre Company will resuscitate Granville-Barker's lesser-known 1909 work The Madras House, beginning Jan. 31. The story tells of Constantine Madras, a man who founded a London fashion emporium and then left England to establish a polygamous household in Iraq (!), and has now returned to sell the business.
Several American playwrights will return to their oft-times artistic homes in the next few months. MCC, which never saw a Neil LaBute play it didn't like, will produce the misanthropic scribe's latest, In a Dark, Dark House, beginning May 16. Wallace Shawn, who has found a friend in The New Group, will star in a revival of his own self-lacerating monologue of privilege-born guilt, The Fever, opening Jan. 24. Charles Busch had the biggest hit of his playwriting career with The Tale of the Allergist's Wife, which premiered at Manhattan Theatre Club. He will come back to the nonprofit with his new one, Our Leading Lady, a comedy starring Kate Mulgrew as Laura Keene, the 19th-century American stage star who is best known now for having been at Ford's Theatre on the wrong night. Opening is March 20. Bob Glaudini will see his latest, Jack Goes Boating, staged by LAByrinth Theatre Company, starring co-artistic directors Philip Seymour Hoffman and John Ortiz. Opening is March 18 at the Public Theater. And A.R. Gurney, who has frequently found a safe haven at Playwrights Horizons, will do so again with Crazy Mary. In the play, Gurney revisits his hometown Buffalo once again, this time to tell of a family who pays a call on a long-lost cousin's home—an asylum. Sigourney Weaver and Kristine Nielsen star. Performances begin May 11.
Another Playwrights Horizons regular, playwright-director Richard Nelson, is back for 2007. The prolific Nelson has turned his attentions to a subject of evergreen fascination for playwrights: Frank Lloyd Wright, genius of architecture, not so much of life. Peter Weller plays the icon, who is seen mid-career in 1923, just after building the famous Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. Harris Yulin is Wright's mentor, Louis Sullivan. Robert Falls—a Chicago man, appropriately enough—directs. Opening is Jan. 30.
Christopher Durang, a dramatist often hosted by PH, will see his latest, Adrift in Macao, staged at Primary Stages, opening Feb. 13. A film noir musical parody (how many of those have you seen?), the long-aborning show will star Alan Campbell. Peter Melnick provides the music. The show is said to focus less on crime, and more on film noir ambience — "the smoky nightclubs, the alluring women, and the mysterious men with shady pasts."
Terrence McNally, who has made Primary Stages his home in recent years (a tradition he continues with the upcoming Deuce, a Broadway outing produced by Primary Stages), will this season pay a call on Second Stage with Some Men. The play's immodest goal is to examine "all the events in the past 50 years that have led to same-sex marriage," in the writer's words. Whew! Performances begin Feb. 23. Already running at Second Stage is Theresa Rebeck's latest, The Scene, featuring television stars Tony Shaloub and Patricia Heaton. It opens Jan. 11.
Frequent McNally director Joe Mantello will, beginning March 15, devote his attentions to David Harrower's recent London play about a past relationship that come to a head, Blackbird, at Manhattan Theatre Club. Jeff Daniels, who hasn't been seen on the New York stage in some time, will star. Opening is April 10.
Fellow nonprofit, the Roundabout Theatre Company, will present the latest by biting British dramatist Patrick Marber. Called Howard Katz the play is about a cutthroat talent agent whose life is bobsledding downhill fast. Doug Hughes will direct Alfred Molina in the lead. Opening at the Laura Pels is March 1.
And while we're talking nonprofits, Lincoln Center Theater is present Dying City by Christopher Shinn. The play, opening March 4, is about a young therapist whose husband dies while on military duty in Iraq and that man's identical twin brother. Pablo Schreiber and Rebecca Brooksher star.
This season's playwriting success story, Sarah Ruhl, will follow up her The Clean House with Eurydice, her spin on the classic myth, at Second Stage. Les Waters will direct the production, which opens June 12. Meanwhile, Alan Ball, a playwright who had to go to Hollywood to earn fame as a writer ("American Beauty," "Six Feet Under"), returns to the legitimate fold with a new play All That I Will Ever Be, which opens Feb. 6 at New York Theatre Workshop. The tale is set in L.A. (natch) and looks at two young men, one a privileged native Yank, the other an immigrant from the Middle East. Jo Bonney directs. And later in the spring, one of the theatre's most dedicated scribes, Craig Lucas, brings in what may be his most ambitious work to day. The Singing Forest will have its New York premiere at the Public Theater, dates to be determined. Bartlett Sher will direct the three-act piece (remember those?) which interweaves the tales of three generations of one family, from New York in 2000 to post-World War II Paris to Vienna in the 1930s.
Playbill's walking tour of the early 2007 winter/spring Off-Broadway season is a sampling of upcoming productions and is not intended to be comprehensive.
(Robert Simonson is Playbill.com's senior correspondent. He can be reached at email@example.com.)