By Robert Viagas
and David Lefkowitz
25 Aug 1997
West Coast theatregoers are getting a chance to see Ron Rifkin in Neil Simon's latest comedy, Proposals, but Broadway will not. As reported in Theatrical Index and confirmed by the Bill Evans office, Rifkin will leave the role of Burt Hines sometime during the New Haven, CT run (Sept. 16-28) to be replaced by Dick Latessa. No explanation was given for the casting switch.
The pre-Broadway tryout Simon's Proposals runs through Aug, 31 at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles as the last production of that theatre's 30th anniversary season.
Rifkin, a longtime television actor, came to the theatre world's attention in The Substance Of Fire, a role he repeated in the film version of the Jon Robin Baitz play. Rifkin also starred in the Off-Broadway production of Three Hotels, directed by Joe Mantello, who also has stages Proposals.
Latessa's many credits include Encores! 1996 concert staging of Du Barry Was A Lady, 1994's Damn Yankees and 1992's Juno at NY's Vineyard Theatre.
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Simon will return to Broadway with this project, which starts previews at Broadway's Broadhurst Theatre Oct. 29, with an opening scheduled for Nov. 6.
Between those two engagements, Proposals is scheduled to try out at the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix, AZ Sept. 3-11; at the Shubert Performing Arts Center in New Haven, CT. Sept. 16-28; and at the Eisenhower Theatre in Washington DC Oct. 1-26.
Simon, who just turned 70, recently told Variety that Proposals might be his last play because it takes too long to get a play on stage. However, he'll continue writing for film and TV and is working on a sequel to The Odd Couple titled Odd Couple II - Travelin' Light, to be directed by Howard Deutsch, for either film or TV.
Also starring in Proposals are Kelly Bishop, L. Scott Caldwell, Suzanne Cryer, Katie Finnernan, Matt Letscher, Peter Rini, Reg Rogers (Holiday) and Mel Winkler. Joe Mantello (Love! Valour! Compassion!) stages the comedy, which is produced by Emanuel Azenberg. Sets are by John Lee Beatty, costumes by Jane Greenwood, lighting by Brian MacDevitt and sound by Tom Clark.
The nine-character play is about a man who is recovering from a heart attack in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. His ex-wife n daughter arrive, as do the two suitors who pursue the latter. Variety said the play interweaves "themes of mortality, love and forgiveness."
Theatrical Index quotes Simon as saying that his first outdoor play "is sort of A Midsummer Night's Dream, but it's not Shakespearean."
The plan to open on Broadway is significant. Simon opened his last play, London Suite off-Broadway, complaining that costs on Broadway had become burdensome. However, London Suite had a comparatively modest six-month run off-Broadway, compared to the year-plus runs for some of his Broadway hits, including, but scarcely limited to: Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, Promises, Promises, Brighton Beach Memoirs, Rumors, Pulitzer-winner Lost in Yonkers, and Tony-winner Biloxi Blues.
Proposals marks the sixth time the Ahmanson Theatre has hosted a Neil Simon premiere. The others have been California Suite (1976), Chapter Two (1977), They're Playing Our Song (1978), Brighton Beach Memoirs (1982); and Biloxi Blues (1984).
The show is presented as part of a four-play Ahmanson subscription. Subscriptions cost $82 to $232.50. For information or subscriptions: (213) 972-0700.