A finalist for the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Old Wicked Songs begins its second Off-Broadway run this Friday, August 16, at the Promenade Theatre. Jon Marans' play, directed by Seth Barrish, enjoyed a successful engagement last November at Playhouse 91.
Old Wicked Songs tells the story of Stephen Hoffman, an arrogant, American concert pianist, whose artistic crisis has caused him to quit his performance career. He travels to Vienna to study with a passionate, elderly professor. Through the exploration of Schumann's song-cycle "Dichterliebe," they rediscover their love of music.
This epiphany is achieved in the context of Austro-German history. In visiting Nazi death camps, Hoffman develops an appreciation of the holocaust's effects on the lives of his professor's generation. The action takes place in 1986, while Austrian President Kurt Waldheim is seeking reelection. Revelations regarding Waldheim's Nazi past add immediacy to this exploration of identity.
The original NY production, a joint effort by the Jewish Repertory Theatre and The Barrow Group, received rave reviews. Clive Barnes, drama critic for The New York Post, called it "one of the best plays of the year, a fascinating exploration of art, guilt, compassion and identity." Hal Robinson reprises the role of Professor Mashkan, which he originated in the world premiere at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia. The piano virtuoso is portrayed by Justin Kirk. You may remember Kirk as Bobby Brahms, the blind man with a roving eye, in Terrence McNally's Love! Valour! Compassion!
The playwright has written comedy for TV's "The New Carol Burnett Show," and toiled as a script editor for Michael Douglas' production company at Columbia Pictures. A previous play, Child Child, won The Preston Jones New Play Award in its production at Houston's Chocolate Bayou Theatre.
In New York, Marans' work has included books and lyrics for two musicals, The Leaves Will Be Off the Trees and Green. Both were commissioned by The New York Shakespeare Festival and latter produced at the 45th Street Theater. Currently, Marans is writing the book and lyrics for Another Year, a musical about a financial shark who abandons Wall Street to teach in an urban high school.
This new production is produced by Jeffrey Ash and Daryl Roth. Opening night will be Thursday, Sept. 5. The Promenade Theatre is at 2162 Broadway at 76th Street in Manhattan. Tickets are available at the box office or by calling (212) 580-1313.
-- By Kevin W. Reardon
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