By Robert Simonson
and Peter Szatmary, Texas Correspondent
23 Jun 1998
Houston's Alley Theatre's much lauded production of Tennessee Williams' early rarity, Not About Nightingales will play its last performance July 3. A collaboration between the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain and Corin and Vanessa Redgrave's Moving Theatre, in association with the Alley, the international production opened June 10 to a largely positive review from The New York Times.
The production's future has been the subject of much speculation. An unusual number of Broadway producers have been flying west to take in Nightingales. And the Alley Theatre is considering Broadway's old Circle in the Square theatre space on 50th Street as a possible New York destination for the hit production. "They have expressed interest in the theatre, but there is nothing concrete yet," said Ted Mann, co-founder of the now-defunct Circle, told Playbill On-Line.
Alley spokesperson Jennifer Garza told Playbill On-Line that the Alley, the RNT and the Moving Theatre are exploring several New York theatres, including Circle in the Square, as possible homes for Nightingales, should it travel to Gotham. No formal discussions have taken place, however.
Mann and former producing director Paul Libin recently won a legal battle with a group of Circle's creditors over control of the Broadway space. The theatre went bankrupt in 1996 and closed a year later, collapsing under a mountain of debt. It hasn't seen a theatre production since 1997's Stanley, the sole product Gregory Mosher's short reign as Circle's final artistic director. Mann and Libin hold the lease to the space through their company, Thespian Theater Inc. Not About Nightingales was written in 1938 when Williams, who then went by his given first name Tom, was a playwriting student in his late 20s at University of Iowa. It is based on actual events in a Philadelphia jail involving rebellious inmates, a hunger strike, and sadistic punishment, and it argues against inhumane conditions. It was discovered by Vanessa Redgrave at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin; the Ransom Center houses extensive Williams archives, including manuscripts from approximately 1,000 works. Redgrave came across it in 1996 while in Houston during the first collaboration between the Alley and Moving Theatres: repertory productions of Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. Because the companies' first partnership celebrated a great English playwright, it was deemed appropriate that the next should highlight an American master. Not About Nightingales marks the Alley's initial relationship with the Royal National.
Not About Nightingales, a prison drama, had its world premiere March 5 at the Royal National's Cottelsoe Theatre in London, under the direction of Royal National artistic director Trevor Nunn, and featuring an international cast of 18 led by Corin Redgrave as the tyrannical warden and Alley actor James Black as the prison leader (with two other Alley members in supporting roles). It received critical and general acclaim and quickly sold out its limited run.
For tickets, $22 for previews and $35 - $37 otherwise, call (713) 228 8421