Will B'way Circle Have Black Bottom Next Season?

News   Will B'way Circle Have Black Bottom Next Season?
 
Broadway's Circle In The Square Theatre is still keeping mum on plans for its upcoming season. But Newsday reports that at some point during the season, Circle will stage a revival of August Wilson's 1984 drama, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, but the theatre's spokespersons could not confirm.

Broadway's Circle In The Square Theatre is still keeping mum on plans for its upcoming season. But Newsday reports that at some point during the season, Circle will stage a revival of August Wilson's 1984 drama, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, but the theatre's spokespersons could not confirm.

A May 15 call to Circle In The Square's box office received the reply that the Newsday report was "jumping the gun...but we should have more information on the season next week."

The theatre, which nearly shut down in 1996, was revived in February 1997 by new artistic director Gregory Mosher, who chose to bring in Pam Gems' English hit, Stanley. That play (the only one mounted at Circle this past season), combined with an aggressive advertising campaign for inexpensive subscriptions (called "memberships"), has given the theatre a positive outlook for 1997-98.

Despite talk of an extension, Circle in the Square held to its April 27 closing date for Stanley, which won four Olivier Awards, including best play and best actor, during its original run in London. That U.S. premiere opened Feb. 20 and is nominated for Tony Awards as Best Play, Best Director (John Caird) and Best Actor (Antony Sher). Sher, who won the Olivier as Best Actor, is a major English actor (Richard III at the Royal Shakespeare Company) making his American debut. Deborah Findlay won the Olivier as Best Supporting Actress.

With M. Edgar Rosenblum leaving Long Wharf Theatre to take a senior producing position at New York's Circle In The Square theatre, another element went into place for the beleaguered Broadway institution to begin righting itself. This past summer, after the resignation of founder Theodore Mann and jettisoning of artistic director, Josephine Abady, Gregory Mosher came on board as artistic director, hoping to rescue the playhouse from its dire financial straits. "It's an impossible task," Mosher cheerily admitted in an autumn 1996 phone conversation with Playbill On-Line. "The odds are incredibly long, but that's why I felt the need to do it. Four years ago, I left Lincoln Center Theatre -- at the height of its popularity, its critical and commercial success, but it wasn't fun anymore. It was getting repetitive, maintaining that success, and the challenge was over. It was much more satisfying when things were difficult."

Mosher reflected back on when he was first asked, by then-Mayor John Lindsay, to head Lincoln Center Theatre. "We did many, many lunches, and he was basically begging me, but there was no way I wanted to do it. But then he told me, `This isn't just about the theatre. It's like politics, this is public service. Fulfilling a basic public trust.' I came on in 1975."

"But Circle In The Square is going to be different from Lincoln Center. This is the 90's, so we need to take unusual steps, to explore the possibilities of the future of theatre in New York City. You know, four years ago, when I left Lincoln Center, I took a lot of heat for saying the theatre might be dying. And I admit, that came at a moment when I was losing interest. But I still stand by the statement. Look at radio drama. If you told people in the 1930's that radio drama would disappear in this country, they'd've looked at you like you were crazy. They had Jack Benny, the Shadow. Then came television ... Now theatre people tend to be smug and lazy, `Oh, the theatre will always be around, it'll always be important.' That's just not necessarily the case. We need to protect it, and re-invent it."

But that takes money, doesn't it? "The money will come from individuals and dedicated subsidizers," stated Mosher. "I have confidence, because there are three groups in New York, the artists and creators, the audience, and generous people who give to keep that going."

Regarding the creative direction Circle will pursue, Mosher hopes to dedicate the theatre to giving playwrights a place they can call home. "So many writers turn out great works because they have a PLACE they know their work will get produced. Circle Repertory was a home like that, for Craig Lucas, for Lanford [Wilson] and now THAT'S gone. And we need writers -- like Richard Nelson, Wallace Shawn -- who can have a home in New York."

That said, Circle In The Square's first production under the new regime came from England. "I didn't see Stanley in London," explained Mosher, "but I read the script by Pam Gems and really liked it. The reason we're doing it here is that the show doesn't call for a proscenium stage -- and that's what nearly all other Broadway theatres have." (Circle In The Square is a rounded playhouse, with the audience sitting on three sides looking down on a floor-level playing space.)

"We have so much preliminary work, and it's so behind-the-times here. We have two computers and they're not even compatible with each other. And you can't run a theatre on 6,000 subscribers. We need to find the new generation, to see what's out there, which is why I'm reading scripts like mad."

"I love the space, though," Mosher said of Circle, long regarded as a notoriously difficult house because actors' backs are to half the audience half the time. "It's like the Globe Theatre or the Newhouse. We're all in this place watching something together. It's my favorite space."

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