After a successful mounting at New Jersey's George Street Playhouse, Anne Meara's second produced play, Down the Garden Paths, had an equally potent -- and mostly sold-out -- run at Connecticut's Long Wharf Theatre. New York would have seemed like the next obvious step, but there was a season-long logjam for theaters on and Off-Broadway. As recently as Aug. 16, a representative from George Street told Playbill On-Line the play was "very much alive" but still hadn't found a theatre.
The New York Post reported (Aug. 25) that Off-Broadway producer Elinor Renfield had wanted to mount a production of Peter Nichols' Passion Play at the Minetta Lane theatre but couldn't because the venue was set aside for Down the Garden Paths. In an Aug. 30 story, Broadway.com quotes an unnamed spokesperson for Paths as saying the Minetta Lane is "definite."
Nevertheless, Garden Paths spokesperson Jeffrey Richards told Playbill On-Line (Aug. 30) that although the show is definitely scheduled for the fall, no venue is ready to be announced. "What I can say is that I've read it, and it's a wonderful play," Richards added.
The Minetta Lane's current tenant is the comedy imPerfect Chemistry [sic], which received poor-to-mixed reviews upon its Aug. 24 opening. A spokesperson from the Pete Sanders Group told Playbill On-Line (Aug. 29) that Chemistry is still in an open run, and that they'd heard no news of another tenant knocking on the Minetta Lane's door.
Chemistry's general manager, Roger Alan Gindi, told Playbill On Line (Aug. 31) that Garden Paths does indeed have a "back-up agreement" for the Minetta Lane should CHEMISTRY combust. "I had a lovely conversation with [Paths co-producer] Roy Gabay yesterday," Gindi said, "and we wished each other luck. They can't do anything to kick us out, and we're not kicking ourselves out." As such, Gindi said that CHEMISTRY is prepared to keep going for at least "several weeks," possibly through the holidays, in the hopes of creating long-term plans for the show in "subsidiary markets." Regarding New York plans for two Saint-directed works, Meara's Paths and Arthur Laurents' Jolson Sings Again, George Street's former press rep Gabriel Shanks told Playbill On-Line (Aug. 16), "We get very close to finding an [Off-Broadway] theatre for Garden Paths, but then we don't," said Shanks. George Street would co-produce the Meara play, though the company is not a producer of the Laurents work (Scott Rudin is). At the time, director Saint told Playbill On-Line that the producers (Elliot Martin, Roy Gabay, NJ’s George Street Theatre and CT’s Long Wharf Theatre) are currently discussing the options, and that a decision “determining what theatre is best...would have to be done rather soon.”
Back in late March, according to former spokesperson Shanks, director Saint and the Long Wharf-George Street cast assembled for two brief stagings in Florida, first at Fort Lauderdale’s Parker Playhouse (March 24 26) and then at Palm Beach’s Royal Poinciana (March 28-April 2). The hope was that by the time the runs were done, a New York house would come available.
The timeline was especially crunched, not just because of the difficulty of reassembling the cast in the fall, but because Saint is supposed to be directing Arthur Laurents’ Jolson Sings Again around that time as well. Saint previously staged Meara’s After-Play in New York and around the country, and he’s busy directing the regional premiere of Ancestral Voices at George Street.
“It’s a waiting game,” spokesperson Shanks told Playbill On-Line (March 22). “We’ve got a small window to find space in New York. Hopefully we can resolve something.”
Down the Garden Paths started NJ previews Jan. 19 and opened Jan. 26. The story of a family gathering to celebrate the latest novel by an award winning author, Paths featured an on-film cameo by Meara's real-life husband, Jerry Stiller, playing Herschel Strange, a quantum physicist. Stiller and Meara's real-life daughter, Amy Stiller (Sharon Garden/Jodie Garden), was also in the show. And adding further to the show's familial undercurrent were true-life couple Eli Wallach (Sid Garden) and Anne Jackson (Stella Dempsey Garden), joined by their daughter, Roberta Wallach (Claire Shayne/Claire Garden). Supporting cast members include Michael Countryman (Max Garden), Angela Pietropinto (Professor Cramer), John Procaccino (Arthur Garden) and Ann McDonough (Liz Garden).
Jackson and Wallach have appeared together in such shows as Twice Around the Park and the recent Tennessee Williams Remembered. The younger Wallach received a Drama Desk nomination for playing the hellishly unpleasant daughter in Donald Margulies' The Model Apartment.
Designing The Garden Paths at George Street were Michael Elliott (lighting, replacing Howell Binkley, who was busy on Minnelli on Minnelli), James Youmans (set), Chris Bailey (sound) and David Murin (costumes).
Anne Meara's acting career started in Off and Off-Off-Broadway theatre, then moved to the nightclub circuit as part of the husband-and-wife comedy team, Stiller and Meara. Since then, Meara has had Broadway roles (Anna Christie) and numerous television credits ("Archie Bunker's Place"). According to Jerry Stiller's soon-to-be-released autobiography, Meara's first play, Victims, was penned several years before After-Play and serious had interest from director Mike Nichols and Lincoln Center Theatre, but the show never came to fruition.
-- By David Lefkowitz
and Christine Ehren