New works by playwrights Alfred Uhry, Cheryl West and Eric Bogosian will grace the Williamstown Theatre Festival's smaller Nikos Stage in 2002, while the Main Stage will be filled with revivals of classic comedies by Kaufman and Hart and Joe Orton, as well as a new look at the seldom-seen musical, Where's Charley?
The season will run from June 12-Aug. 25.
George Abbott and Frank Loesser's Where's Charley opens the Main Stage season on June 19. Loesser made his Broadway debut with this 1948 musical adaptation of the classic London farce by Brandon Thomas, in which an Oxford undergraduate disguises himself as his pal's aunt, so that the he and his friends might be properly chaperoned when some lady friends come to call.
Ray Bolger played the title role in the original. He is widely credited with saving the show, which was not well received. In particular, he made a hit out of the score's most enduring number, "Once in Love with Amy." Bolger would sing, dance, and cut up—even encourage the audience to sing along—during the song each night. Theatregoers and critics were delighted with Bolger and the show has a long run.
Then as now, the musical depends upon the casting of a strong star. Williamstown has not named the actor who will play the Bolger role. Nicholas Martin directs. The ever popular Kaufman and Hart Hollywood spoof Once in a Lifetime follows, under the direction of Michael Grief. Next comes a John Tillinger-directed revival of Joe Orton's black, bristling farce, Loot. The assignment is significant, as Tillinger largely built his reputation on a series of excellent Orton revivals in the 1980s, including a production of Loot which reached Broadway. The show, starring Zoe Wanamaker and Joseph Maher, earned Tillinger a Tony nomination as best director.
As previously reported by PBOL, the Main Stage season will also feature Donald Margulies' latest, God of Vengeance. As in a previous staging at Seattle's A Contemporary Theatre, Gordon Edelstein directs.
Williamstown workshopped God of Vengeance in 2001. The adaptation of the Yiddish classic premiered at A Contemporary Theatre in April 2000.
God is Margulies first new work since the playwright won the Pulitzer Prize for Dinner with Friends. The turn-of-the-century drama centers on a father, devoted to preserving his daughter's innocence in his home and increasing his reputation as an honorable man in the community, even as he runs a brothel in the basement. When the 1906 play was first translated into English in 1923 and performed at the Apollo Theatre in New York City, the producer, theatre owner and cast were arrested and found guilty of presenting an "immoral" entertainment.
The Main Stage season will conclude with a "mini-festival" celebrating the "art of theatre and storytelling." The program includes three attractions: For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again, starring Olympia Dukakis, directed by Carey Perloff; A Distant Country Called Youth, adapted from the letters of Tennessee Williams and directed by Steve Lawson; and Lackawanna Blues, the well-traveled memory piece by and starring Ruben Santiago-Hudson.
The Nikos Stage season will commence with the U.S. premiere of British playwright David Eldridge's Under the Blue Sky on June 12. John Erman directs the story about "the clumsy love lives of high school teachers." Next comes Moving Picture, a premiere by Dan O'Brien set in the 1888 laboratory of Thomas Edison. At the helm is Williamstown fave Darko Tresnjak (last season's A Winter's Tale).
The Nikos line-up will conclude with three significant premieres. First is Birdie Blue, the latest by Cheryl West (Jar the Floor). The two-hander is described as a "poignant family portrait." Marion McClinton, who made a success out of the Off-Broadway bow of Jar the Floor, will direct.
Eric Bogosian, whose Humpty Dumpty is currently enjoying its debut at the McCarter Theatre, will unveil yet another new work at Williamstown in the form of The Red Angel. This drama appears to venture into Oleanna territory with its look at a university professor's "psycho-sexual" standoff with an alluring student. No director has been named.
Another teacher-student relationship is explored in Without Walls, something new by Alfred Uhry (The Last Night of Ballyhoo). The instructor is Morocco Hempfill, an African-American drama teacher. The pupil is Anton, who has been newly transferred to Hemphill's school. Uhry told the New York Times that the piece was inspired by his experiences as an English and drama teacher on the Upper West Side in the 1970s. Christopher Ashley directs.
No casting for any of the shows has been announced.
For ticket information, call (413) 458-3200.
—By Robert Simonson