Tony Kushner's Hydriotaphia Postpones Houston Opening

News   Tony Kushner's Hydriotaphia Postpones Houston Opening
HOUSTON -- The Alley Theatre has announced that the press night of Tony Kushner's latest, Hydriotaphia, or the Death of Dr. Browne, originally scheduled for April 1 at the Tony Award-winning regional company, has been pushed back to April 8.

HOUSTON -- The Alley Theatre has announced that the press night of Tony Kushner's latest, Hydriotaphia, or the Death of Dr. Browne, originally scheduled for April 1 at the Tony Award-winning regional company, has been pushed back to April 8.

The postponement is due to extensive rewrites, according to an Alley Theatre press release.

"Major new works require special attention, a little flexibility," said Alley Theatre artistic director Gregory Boyd in a prepared statement. "We understand and support this artistic process and are working diligently to present an exciting world premiere to our audiences."

The Alley will give ticket holders of performances from April 1-7 the option to exchange tickets for performances after April 8. In any case, the run ends, as previously scheduled, on April 25.

A sweeping intellectual comedy, Hydriotaphia chronicles the last hours in the life of Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682), an English physician and writer known for the richness of his prose and his attempt to reconcile Christian values with scientific knowledge. As the great man wanes, he must deal with not just his wife and amanuensis, but also his Soul and Death, not to mention a love-struck gravedigger, a stuttering preacher, and a ranter or two, among the cast of 15. Each character has an all-important agenda and is single-minded in the pursuit of it in a "fabulous" world that spans heaven and earth, the metaphysical and the mundane, the bawdy and the beatific. An epic farce set against the Restoration, Hydriotaphia continues Kushner's interest in periods of transitions, times when the status quo is changing. Like Angels in America and Slavs!, both of which used instability as modus operandi, Hydriotaphia has as its backdrop societal disappointment, and upheaval.

Said another way, it's a semi-historical and semi-biographical musing on immortality and death in a threatened era. It invites the notion that there is, as Browne wrote, "something very vital and electric about morbidity."

The postponement of Hydriotaphia is not completely unexpected. Kushner has a reputation of being a furious reviser up until opening. And he thrives on inspiration from and collaboration with a given cast and director.

In fact, at a recent press conference in the Alley rehearsal space during an afternoon break, Kushner, Michael Wilson, the show's director, and lead actor Jonathan Hadary had alluded to as much, their informal exchanges proving prescient.

Kushner explained how he had first written Hydriotaphia in three weeks a decade ago and how it had been workshopped at New York University but for a number of reasons didn't go as well as planned. It had been drastically reworked for the Alley mounting, Kushner said, and was still undergoing shaping for its first major production. "The rewriting is a complicated thing," Kushner explained. "Every character was originally written for close friends."

Wilson, the newly appointed artistic director the Hartford Stage, also directed the NYU version. All the NYU rewrites have been thrown out, Wilson said, for the Alley production. "There's lots of new writing," Wilson chuckled, feigning burden. Wilson has worked with Kushner before at the Alley, and the two expressed mutual admiration for each other, how their skills fit together nicely.

Wilson also joked about being inundated with lengthy faxes by Kushner prior to the playwright's arrival in Houston; revisions, and revisions of revisions, had, over time, come to him from the Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist from as far away as England, sheaves gushing out of the fax machine like waterfalls.

"We're going to continue to look at Hydriotaphia during the run" in Houston, Wilson tellingly remarked. And, he added, during the subsequent presentation in the fall at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, the Alley's co-producer.

Broadway veteran Hadary, who was Roy Cohn in the national tour of Angels in America, wryly observed that in his latest interaction with Kushner, "Hot off the press, new copies of Act 5. There I was. I hadn't been in it before." Actually, Hadary was thrilled.

All three praised the Alley for creating an environment conducive to collaboration.

Which, with the postponement, has turned out to be a good thing.

Hydriotaphia, a collaboration with Berkeley Repertory Theatre, runs at the Alley Theatre April 1-25. For tickets, $31 - $46, call (713) 228-9341

-- By Peter Szatmary
Texas Correspondent

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