What a difference four decades can bring. When Edward Albee’s Tiny Alice first opened in 1964, the playwright had to hold a press conference just to address negative and puzzled critical response to his offbeat drama. Fast forward to the opening, Dec. 5, of Second Stage Theatre’s Off-Broadway revival of the play, and within days of the opening, the producers have announced an extension of the show’s run, due to “overwhelming demand for tickets.”
Tiny Alice, starring Richard Thomas and Laila Robins, started previews Nov. 16 and was set to close Dec. 24 but will now run to Dec. 31. No doubt a factor in the decision to extend was a strongly positive review in the New York Times. Other reviews were mixed, with Newsday’s Linda Winer also strongly recommending the production.
Tiny Alice features Thomas in the lead role of Brother Julian, a man of the church seduced by Alice's (Robins’) sexuality and wealth. Asked about the show's controversial content, Thomas told the New York Daily News (Dec. 7), "Funny, though, how times have changed. The play's sexual bent and religious theme don't seem quite as threatening — there's not the outrage there was the first time around. I think of it as a whodunit, a real old-fashioned melodrama - the big, old, spooky house, the mysterious lady, a strange butler. Classic stuff."
The original production of Tiny Alice was presented on Broadway in December 1964, with John Gielgud and Irene Worth under the direction of Alan Schneider. The play was greeted by largely negative reviews, the tone of the notices all the most noteworthy since Alice was Albee's first full-length play since the universally praised Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? In March 1965, Albee took the extraordinary measure of holding a press conference to address critical response.
Co-starring in Second Stage’s revival, which began previews Nov. 16, are John Michael Higgins, Tom Lacy and Stephen Rowe. Higgins, recently in the Christopher Guest film comedy “Best In Show,” was the original Jeffrey in OB’s Jeffrey. Lacy appeared in the National Actors Theatre mounting of Timon of Athens. Designers for Alice are John Arnone on sets, Constance Hoffman on costumes, Donald Holder on lighting and David Budries on sound.
Back in August 1998, producers Elizabeth McCann and Daryl Roth were planning to revive Albee's complex 1965 drama on Broadway. They had a director, Mark Lamos, and a star, Thomas, who appeared in the show's hit revival at Connecticut's Hartford Stage earlier that year. A female lead proved harder to find, however, and the production never materialized.
Lamos and Thomas stayed with the project, though, and it was eventually scheduled to open the 2000-01 season of Off-Broadway's Second Stage Theatre. Once co-star Robins was chosen, rehearsals began Oct. 17 and an opening night was set.
Last on Broadway in The Herbal Bed, Robins has been busy in the regionals. She just finished a run as Hedda Gabler at MN's Guthrie Theatre, where she'd previously appeared in Summer and Smoke. She went to the New Jersey's McCarter last season in order to act in Shepard's Fool for Love and to Chicago's Steppenwolf a couple seasons back to play Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire. Perhaps her best-known New York role was playing opposite Uta Hagen in Mrs. Klein.
As for co-star Thomas, in June 1998 he won Boston's Elliot Norton Lifetime Achievement Award. He's a Hartford Stage veteran and had previously played Hamlet and Peer Gynt there. Broadway credits include The Fifth of July and Strange Interlude, though Thomas remains best known for playing John-Boy on TV's "The Waltons."
Playwright Albee has been enjoying a renaissance since 1994 when his Three Tall Woman won him his third Pulitzer Prize. His A Delicate Balance got a Tony-winning revival on Broadway; his Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? had an award-winning London remounting in 1996.
As for the rest of the Second Stage season, Cellini, with author John Patrick Shanley also directing, is scheduled to start previews Jan. 23, 2001. No word yet on casting. Cellini examines Renaissance sculptor Benvenuto Cellini and his attempt to make great art while pleasing his benefactor, Pope Clement VII.
Beth Henley's Crimes of the Heart is scheduled for a revival, with previews starting April 3, 2001. Henley's play about kooky Southern sisters has remained a staple of regional and community playhouses. More recent plays have included the poorly-received Family Week this season and last year's Impossible Marriage at the Roundabout. Other Henley works include The Wake of Jamey Foster (on Broadway in 1982) and The Miss Firecracker Contest. The surprising news here is that Garry Hynes, Tony-winning director of The Beauty Queen of Leenane, will helm the 1981 show.
The final show of the Second Stage season will be Once Around the City, a new musical by Willie and Robert Reale. The production -- to be directed by Mark Linn-Baker (who will be acting artistic director of the theatre for six months beginning in January 2001) and choreographed by Jennifer Muller -- will begin previews June 12, 2001.
City, set in the 1980's, is described as an antidote to the "greed decade." The central story pits a yuppie real estate agent against an advocate of the homeless. Romance, comedy, Reaganomics and a jazzy score are mixed into the show.
The brothers Reale have written six musicals together, including Quark Victory, which played at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 1999. That quirky tuner centered around a teenage girl named Samantha who takes an amazing journey into the nucleus of an atom. Karen Ziemba and Wilson Jermaine Heredia starred in the production.
For ticket and subscription information call Second Stage Theatre at (212) 787-5600.
In other Second Stage news, the company's much-acclaimed production of August Wilson's Jitney continues at the Union Square Theatre and reached its 200th Off-Broadway performance Oct. 24. The show ended its run at Second Stage’s home venue Sept. 10 and reopened Sept. 19 at the larger Union Square.
In further Second Stage news, as mentioned above, actor Mark Linn-Baker, best known for his years on TV's "Perfect Strangers" and work in filmdom's "My Favorite Year" has been tapped by artistic director Carole Rothman to oversee the company while she takes a half-year vacation, starting January 2001 (she’s expected back next fall to run the 2001-02 season).
A co-founder of New York Stage and Film, Linn-Baker was last seen OB in Chesapeake (a commercial production at the Second Stage space) and had recent Broadway roles in A Flea in Her Ear and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. A Second Stage spokesperson at the Richard Kornberg press office didn't know whether Linn-Baker would be choosing any shows for the following season or simply overseeing the Jan-Aug. 2001 slate chosen by Rothman, as well as directing Once Around the City.
— By David Lefkowitz