Though she played the first week of previews, a bout of illness has temporarily sidelined Anne Bancroft from her role in Edward Albee's Occupant at Off-Broadway's Signature Theatre Company. A production spokesperson at The Publicity Office told Playbill On-Line (Feb. 19) Bancroft has been out since Feb. 10 and will miss all the performances this week (thru Feb. 24). It's hoped that she'll return the week of Feb. 26. Kathleen Butler, who's been doing the Saturday matinees anyway, will continue to play all the performances Bancroft misses.
Because of Bancroft's ailment — which was bronchitis but then worsened into pneumonia — the show's Feb. 24 opening will be rescheduled, though the play can't extend past its skedded April 7 close because John Guare's new play is already slated for the spring.
The Occupant started performances Feb. 5 at the Peter Norton Space, used by the Signature Theatre Company. This new work by the multi-Pulitzer winner stars Bancroft and Neal Huff.
Anthony Page, whose revival of A Doll's House lit up Broadway in 1997, directs the work, titled Edward Albee's Occupant. No, the italics aren't misguided; the play, formerly titled The Occupant, has seemingly taken a page from Gore Vidal's The Best Man and included its author in the title.
The two-character piece covers the life of sculptor Louise Nevelson, played by Bancroft. Huff's recent roles have ranged from the last Broadway revival of A Lion in Winter to Visiting Mr. Green at the Berkshire Theatre Festival.
Bancroft, perhaps following the example of Nathan Lane, the star of her husband Mel Brooks' musical The Producers, does not regularly perform eight shows a week; on Saturday matinees, Butler has been performing the lead role.
(Bancroft is only the latest star of the New York stage to take on a lighter load than the usual eight-show-a-week standard. Lane cut back to six performances, owing to persistent throat problems. Elaine Stritch is doing a five-show week with her Broadway solo, At Liberty, with show representatives citing the piece's rigorous nature and Stritch's advanced age. And Kevin Bacon skips certain matinees of Heather McDonald's one man play, An Almost Holy Picture, a Roundabout Theatre Company production.)
Regarding the Albee play, "It's about a woman fighting the traditions and conventions she was forced into in order to find her own path in life," Bancroft was quoted as saying. "And that's not just a problem for her or even just women. It's a problem for everyone: how do you find your own path?"
What with a recent, high-profile revival of Tiny Alice, the surprise success of The Play About the Baby Off-Broadway and plans being readied for the Broadway premiere of The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?, playwright Albee has earned the right to pull a switcheroo. As such, the promised world premiere of I Think Back Now on Andre Gide was pulled from the Signature Theatre line-up and replaced, during the same time period, with his Occupant.
Mel Brooks, long married to Bancroft, had told Newsday that if his wife took the Occupant role, "it looks like we could be spending a lot more time in New York." Brooks, of course, is the co-author and composer of the mega-hit The Producers, who hinted that he and Thomas Meehan might turn to "Young Frankenstein" next. Bancroft, a two-time Tony winner for Two for the Seesaw and The Miracle Worker, is best known for originating the role of Mrs. Robinson in "The Graduate," which coincidentally will arrive as a Broadway comedy-drama in the spring.
Designing Edward Albee's Occupant are Christine Jones (sets), Pat Collins (lighting) and Jane Greenwood (costumes). In a coincidental note, though both plays deal with the life of Louise Nevelson, Edward Albee's Occupant has no connection to Catherine Gropper's drama Embers, which runs Jan. 23-Feb. 24 at the Chelsea Playhouse.)
—By David Lefkowitz and Robert Simonson