Lauded by the New York Drama Critics Circle as the Best Play of the year, August Wilson's Jitney will keep rolling all summer long at Off Broadway's Second Stage Theatre. As reported by the New York Times and confirmed by the Richard Kornberg press office, Jitney has extended its run through Sept. 3.
The production, which received unanimously strong reviews and won a special, non competitive award from the Drama Desk for Outstanding Ensemble Performance, was originally supposed to run through May 21 and then extended through July 16. The show started previews April 8 and opened April 25.
Even before the show opened, Center Theatre Group and producer Ben Mordecai, in association with Second Stage, knew they had the right to either move the show or keep it where it is until October, when the new Second Stage season begins. (Stephen Sondheim's early musical, Saturday Night, was the venue's last tenant, playing through March 26.)
Prior to New York, Jitney began subscription previews Jan. 23 at the Mark Taper Forum and opened there Feb. 3 for a run through March 19.
Directed by Marion McClinton, the cast of Jitney includes (in alphabetic order), Willis Burks II, Paul Butler, Anthony Chisholm, Leo V. Finnie III, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Barry Shabaka Henly, Russell Hornsby, Carl Lumbly and Nichole Briana White. The creative team comprises set designer David Gallo, costume designer Susan Hilferty, lighting designer Donald Holder and sound designer Rob Milburn. Narda Alcorn is the production stage manager.
The first play written by Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Wilson, Jitney offers a look into 1970s Pittsburgh and the lives of a group of black men scraping out a living in a gypsy cab company (or jitney station). The play's central character, Charles Becker, is the owner of the unlicensed company who must deal with the city's plan to board up his business. He's also thrown by his the return of his son, Booster (Lumbly), after 20 years in prison. Other Wilson works include Two Trains Running, Seven Guitars and Fences.
For tickets ($51) and information on Jitney at Second Stage Theatre, 307 West 43rd Street, call (212) 246-4422.
In other Second Stage news, three other veteran dramatists are earmarked for the company's 2000-01 season. A brochure available at the theatre notes that revivals of Edward Albee's Tiny Alice and Beth Henley's Pulitzer-winning Crimes of the Heart are on the schedule (subject to change), as is Cellini, a new play by John Patrick Shanley. A fourth production has yet to be announced. Spokespersons at the Richard Kornberg press office confirmed information on the brochure (May 24).
Though Cellini is a new and therefore untested work (about Renaissance sculptor Benvenuto Cellini and his attempt to make great art while pleasing his benefactor, Pope Clement VII), Tiny Alice may be the company's riskiest choice, as it's been on the New York runway for nearly two seasons. Back in August 1998, producers Elizabeth McCann and Daryl Roth were planning to revive Albee's complex 1965 drama on Broadway, They had a director, Mark Lamos, and a star, Richard Thomas, who appeared in the show's hit revival at CT's Hartford Stage earlier that year. A female lead proved harder to find, however, and the production never materialized.
Lamos and Thomas are still connected to the project, though, and it's scheduled for the first slot in the Second Stage season. Thomas plays the lead role of Brother Julian, a man of the church seduced by Alice's sexuality and wealth. The original production of Tiny Alice was presented on Broadway in December 1965, with John Gielgud and Irene Worth under the direction of Alan Schneider.
In June 1998, actor Thomas won Boston's Elliot Norton Lifetime Achievement Award. He's a Hartford Stage veteran and had previously played Hamlet and Peer Gynt there. Broadway credits include The Fifth of July and Strange Interlude, though Thomas remains best known for playing John-Boy on TV's "The Waltons."
Albee has been enjoying a renaissance since 1994 when his Three Tall Woman won him his third Pulitzer Prize. His Delicate Balance got a Tony-winning revival on Broadway; his Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf had an award-winning London remounting in 1996.
As for Crimes of the Heart, Henley's play about kooky Southern sisters has remained a staple of regional and community playhouses. More recent plays have included the poorly-received Family Week this season and last year's Impossible Marriage at the Roundabout. Other Henley works include The Wake Of Jamey Foster (on Broadway in 1982) and The Miss Firecracker Contest.
For ticket and subscription information call Second Stage Theatre at (212) 787-5600.
-- By David Lefkowitz