While Off-Broadway’s Second Stage Theatre enjoys the somewhat surprising critical and box office strength of their revival of Edward Albee’s enigmatic and once-controversial Tiny Alice, perhaps its most acclaimed production to date will soon come to an end. Jitney, August Wilson's look at denizens at a Pittsburgh cab stand, will end its commercial run at the Union Square Theatre Jan. 28, capping a four-month run following the show's transfer from Second Stage Theatre's home space in midtown. Jitney comes to a halt after 20 previews and 311 regular performances (the numbers include performances at both venues).
Lauded by the New York Drama Critics Circle as the Best Play of the year, Jitney received unanimously strong reviews and won a special, non- competitive award from the Drama Desk for Outstanding Ensemble Performance. The show, which started previews April 8 and opened April 25 at Second Stage, was originally supposed to run through May 21 and then extended through July 16. The last extension was through Sept. 10, and the show then started up again in Union Square Sept. 19. The drama is produced by Center Theatre Group and Ben Mordecai, in association with Second Stage. (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 currently includes (in alphabetic order), Russell Andrews, Willis Burks II, Paul Butler, Anthony Chisholm, Leo V. Finnie III, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Barry Shabaka Henley, Keith Randolph Smith and Nichole Briana White. As reported by the New York Times, for the last month of the run, Linda Powell will take over the role currently played by White. Powell's regional theatrical credits are somewhat dwarfed by her father's political ones: He's General Colin Powell, soon to be Secretary of State as part of the Bush administration.
Asked about the casting, Powell told the Times, "Marion [McClinton] has given me a job every year since 1996. He just made it in before the end of the year." A graduate of Circle in the Square's theatre school, Powell joins the Jitney company Dec. 26.
The show's creative also 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, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, The Piano Lesson, 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, actor Mark Linn-Baker, best known for his years on TV's "Perfect Strangers" and work in filmdom's "My Favorite Year" will have a behind-the-scenes role this season. He's been tapped by Second Stage artistic director Carole Rothman to oversee the company while she takes a half-year vacation, starting January 2001.
A co-founder of New York Stage and Film, Linn-Baker was last seen OB in Chesapeake (a commercial production at the Second Stage space) and had recent Broadway roles in A Flea in Her Ear and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. A Second Stage spokesperson at the Richard Kornberg press office didn't know whether Linn-Baker would be choosing any shows for the following season or simply overseeing the Jan-Aug. 2001 slate chosen by Rothman.
Linn-Baker will be directing one show this season, however: a musical comedy by Willie Reale (book and lyrics) and Robert Reale (music) titled Once Around The City. Targeting previews June 12, 2001, City takes place in the money-driven Reagan era and pits a Yuppie real estate agent against an advocate for the homeless. Jennifer Muller choreographs.
In further Second Stage news, three veteran dramatists have been earmarked for the company's 2000-01 season. Revivals of Edward Albee's Tiny Alice and Beth Henley's Pulitzer-winning Crimes of the Heart are on the schedule, as is Cellini, a new play by John Patrick Shanley.
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 seemed the company's riskiest choice, as it had 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 stayed with the project, though, and it was eventually scheduled to open the 2000-01 season of Off Broadway's Second Stage Theatre. Once co-star Laila Robins was chosen, rehearsals began Oct. 17 and an opening night was set.
And what a difference three-and-a-half decades makes. When Tiny Alice first opened in 1964, the playwright had to hold a press conference just to address negative and puzzled critical response to his offbeat drama. Fast forward to the opening, Dec. 5, of Second Stage Theatre’s Off-Broadway revival of the play, and within days of the opening, the producers have announced an extension of the show’s run, due to “overwhelming demand for tickets.”
Tiny Alice, starring Richard Thomas and Laila Robins, started previews Nov. 16 and was set to close Dec. 24. An initial extension brought to run to Dec. 31. Now an additional week has been added, taking the run to Jan. 7, 2001, and a further extension is probable. No doubt a factor in the decision to extend was a strongly positive review in the New York Times (since blown up and hanging in the Second Stage lobby — reading material for theatregoers who patiently wait for scarce standby tickets). Other reviews were mixed, with Newsday’s Linda Winer and Time Out New York's David Cote also strongly recommending the production.
Tiny Alice features Thomas in the lead role of Brother Julian, a man of the church seduced by Alice's (Robins’) sexuality and wealth. The original production of Tiny Alice was presented on Broadway in December 1964, with John Gielgud and Irene Worth under the direction of Alan Schneider. The play was greeted by largely negative reviews, the tone of the notices all the most noteworthy since Alice was Albee's first full-length play since the universally praised Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? In March 1965, Albee took the extraordinary measure of holding a press conference to address critical response.
Co-starring in Second Stage’s revival, which began previews Nov. 16, are John Michael Higgins, Tom Lacy and Stephen Rowe. Higgins, recently in the Christopher Guest film comedy “Best In Show,” was the original Jeffrey in OB’s Jeffrey. Lacy appeared in the National Actors Theatre mounting of Timon of Athens.
Designers for Alice are John Arnone on sets, Constance Hoffman on costumes, Donald Holder on lighting and David Budries on sound.
As for Crimes of the Heart, scheduled to start previews April 3, 2001, 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. The surprising news here is that Garry Hynes, Tony-winning director of The Beauty Queen of Leenane, will helm the 1981 show.
In further Second Stage news, the company’s next production has found its lead actor. Reg Rogers, last seen starring in a CSC revival of Look Back in Anger opposite Enid Graham, will be the titular protagonist of Cellini, written and directed by John Patrick Shanley.
Cellini, scheduled to start previews Jan. 23, 2001, examines Renaissance sculptor Benvenuto Cellini and his attempt to make great art while pleasing his benefactor, Pope Clement VII. Shanley, best known for penning the “Moonstruck” screenplay, has penned such plays as The Big Funk, The Dreamer Examines His Pillow, Psychopathia Sexualis and Danny and the Deep Blue Sea.
Rogers was a Tony nominee for his work opposite Laura Linney in an acclaimed Broadway revival of Holiday. No word yet on further casting for Cellini.
The final show of the Second Stage season will be Once Around the City, a new musical by Willie and Robert Reale. The production — to be directed by Mark Linn-Baker (who will be acting artistic director of the theatre for six months beginning in January 2001) and choreographed by Jennifer Muller — will begin previews June 12, 2001.
City, set in the 1980's, is described as an antidote to the "greed decade." The central story pits a yuppie real estate agent against an advocate of the homeless. Romance, comedy, Reaganomics and a jazzy score are mixed into the show.
The brothers Reale have written six musicals together, including Quark Victory, which played at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 1999. That quirky tuner centered around a teenage girl named Samantha who takes an amazing journey into the nucleus of an atom. Karen Ziemba and Wilson Jermaine Heredia starred in the production.
For ticket and subscription information call Second Stage Theatre at (212) 787-5600.
— By David Lefkowitz