What About Fran? Playwrights Horizons Investigates the Mystery That Lies in Fran's Bed

News   What About Fran? Playwrights Horizons Investigates the Mystery That Lies in Fran's Bed Playwrights Horizons opens the New York premiere of Fran's Bed — James Lapine's new play that aims to reveal the life and times of an incapacitated mother and wife — played by Mia Farrow, Sept. 25 Off-Broadway.
Mia Farrow in Fran's Bed.
Mia Farrow in Fran's Bed. Photo by Joan Marcus

You could hear a pin drop in the play's previews at the PH mainstage since Aug. 30. Farrow lends movie-star power to the production that has had theatregoers riveted to figure out why, where and how the upper middle-class Fran ended up to be, apparently, brain dead in a Phoenix care facility.

A central image in the show is a hospital bed in which an eerily accuate dummy of Farrow is comatose, stuck with tubes and hooked to monitors. A more animated Farrow, whose skin is as translucent live as it is on screen, hovers around that bed (her costume is a nightgown and thick gray woolly socks) and wanders into a landscape of flashbacks that includes shrink visits, a love affair, a family dinner, a first dance with her future husband (Harris Yulin) and other homely scenes.

Lapine directs his own work, with a cast that includes Heather Burns (Playwright Horizons' Lobby Hero) and Julia Stiles (Central Park's Twelfth Night, "Mona Lisa Smile") as Fran's disparate daughters; Brenda Pressley (And the World Goes 'Round) as a faithful caregiver who oversteps her bounds; and Marcia DeBonis (a respected casting agent and actress of Blue Window at MCC) and Jonathan Walker (Broadway's Twentieth Century and After the Fall) in a number of choice roles. DeBonis is a therapist one moment and a hospital administrator the next. Walker is a lover and a therapist.

Performances continue to Oct. 9.

* Farrow recreates the role she originated at The Long Wharf Theatre in 2003. Yulin, Pressley and DeBonis also appeared in the earlier Long Wharf premiere.

Last on stage in the hit play The Exonerated (both Off-Broadway and across the U.S. in several engagements from 2002-2004), Farrow is known for screen performances in "Rosemary's Baby," "Hannah and Her Sisters" and "Alice."

"Incapacitated, surrounded by her family, Fran (Mia Farrow) guides us on an unpredictable journey into her past in an effort to help understand her present situation," according to Playwrights Horizons. The work is billed as "an offbeat, colorful tale of a woman at a midlife crossroads."

Lapine is a Pulitzer Prize and three-time Tony Award winner who wrote or co-wrote Sunday in the Park with George, March of the Falsettos, Falsettoland, Table Settings and The Moment When (all at Playwrights Horizons), and Twelve Dreams, Into the Woods and Passion. Lapine is currently represented on Broadway as the director of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

The production will feature scenic design by Derek McLane, costume design by Susan Hilferty, lighting design by David Lander, sound design by Fitz Patton and projections by Elaine J. McCarthy.

Playwrights Horizons' Mainstage Theater is at 416 W. 42nd Street.

The performance schedule for Fran's Bed will be Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 PM, Saturdays at 2:30 & 8 PM and Sundays at 2:30 & 7:30 PM. Tickets are $60. Tickets will go on sale to the public Aug. 3.

For information, call (212) 279-4200 or visit www.playwrightshorizons.org.

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"If you come at Fran's Bed through its storyline, what have you got?" Playwrights Horizons artistic director Tim Sanford wrote, in notes to PH subscribers. "A woman lies in a coma in a hospital while her family deliberates over the difficult medical decisions they must make. Sound familiar? Fran's Bed actually has very little to do with the Terri Schiavo case. Nor does it have much in common with a host of other earnestly rendered, issue-oriented, button-pushing disease of the week TV movies that have dealt with similar storylines. Undoubtedly this storyline sets up certain expectations, but throughout the play's long gestation period, including an intermediary production at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, James has both worked against and within these expectations. He's clearly after so much more than just pushing our buttons. James realized that he could not solve the play without solving its storyline, which he did during two more post-production developmental workshops. His solution both brought to light the internal logic of the protagonist's core journey while subverting our narrative expectations about the medical aspects of the storyline material. It's possible some might find this narrative solution controversial; I prefer to see it as both surprising and organic."

He continued, "There's another way to approach Fran's Bed, of course, and that would be in the context of James' other work. James has always been fascinated by the unconscious underpinnings of things, from his seminal Jungian play, Twelve Dreams, to his ground-breaking Bruno Bettelheim-influenced musical collaboration with Sondheim, Into the Woods, to his last play at Playwrights Horizons, The Moment When. I developed tremendous admiration for James from working on this last play with him and there are actually many similarities both in the way the plays work and the process by which they came together. The Moment When was essentially about the ups and downs of marriage and career and the impact thereof on child rearing. It was a play that took a decidedly long view of life, yet always came at its characters from moment to moment, as the title implies. Fran's Bed takes a similarly long view of life but also reveals that life through memories and impressions, both helping to explain and seeming to contradict our understanding of the current situation. In the flashbacks, Fran seems so full of vitality and humor that we fall in love with her. How could she have come to her current situation? And what would she want if she could speak? The journey of Fran's Bed will almost certainly lead you to answer these questions for yourself. And the accomplishment of the play, I think, rests in the likelihood that you will not feel you are being asked to take sides in a politicized debate. Rather, I think you will feel you have taken the side of a human being. Isn't that all we can ask of a play?"

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