Off-Broadway's Primary Stages, which has had a small success with the last show of its 1999-2000 season -- When They Speak of Rita -- apparently had less luck with its intended first play of the 2000-01 roster. The company has canceled its plan to stage Milton Frederick Marcus' The Gardens of Frau Hess, directed by John Henry Davis (Papa, Mountain). A spokesperson at the Tony Origlio press office said the schedule change was "a decision made by the theatre."
The first slot is therefore still open, although Primary Stages has announced another production to go up sometime during the season: Luis Alfaro's pitch-dark comedy-drama, Straight as a Line. When the show premiered at Chicago's Goodman Theatre in 1998, this was the Goodman press release synopsis: "Paulie's mum is visiting him in New York. They've had a lovely morning getting Paulie's nipple pierced, and as they wait for the subway, Paulie informs us he's decided to jump in front of a train, a fact his mum calmly confirms."
Alfaro's other plays include The Ballad of Ginger Esparza, co written with Diane Rodriguez and workshopped at CA's Mark Taper Forum. A director has yet to be chosen for the OB run.
Also on the Primary Stages schedule is Krisit, by Y York [sic]. In it, a young movie producer tries to convince a reclusive actress -- one who'd been burned by a vicious review -- to go back into the spotlight 25 years later. Melia Bensussen, who staged Primary Stages' The Turn of the Screw last season, directs.
John Henry Redwood, who penned the regionally popular The Old Settler, returns to Primary Stages in March 2001 with No Niggers, No Jews, No Dogs. Set in 1944 North Carolina, the play tells of the relationship between a Jewish sociologist and the black family he's come to study. Both are targets of the same racism and rage. For information on subscriptions ($120) or single tickets ($35) to Primary Stages, 354 West 45th St., call (212) 333-4052.
As for When They Speak of Rita, Daisy Foote's drama will end at Primary Stages, Aug. 6, after 13 previews and 89 regular performances. Horton Foote directs his daughter, Hallie Foote, in this new play by his other daughter. The show was originally supposed to close June 4, but enough critics and audiences spoke well enough of Rita to warrant an extension, to June 25, followed by a further extension into what had been an open run.
The play began previews May 3 and opened May 17, according to spokespersons at Origlio Public Relations, who credited the extensions to "overwhelming ticket demand."
Rita tells of domestic problems for a New Hampshire family. Rita (Foote) feels suffocated by her husband, a curt and glum roads supervisor. When he's voted out of office, Rita becomes the sole breadwinner by cleaning local houses -- a job she dislikes. Unfortunately, any other career she attempts ends in failure, not the least because her husband and son offer little encouragement. The only one who really appreciates Rita is her son's best friend -- and his interest turns out to be a little more than platonic.
Jamie Bennett (This Lime Tree Bower), Ken Marks, Ebon Moss Bachrach and Margot White costar in the piece.
The 84-year-old Foote pere, the director, won a Pulitzer for his play, The Young Man From Atlanta and also penned Valentine's Day and 1918. Hallie Foote's acting credits include 1996's 900 Oneonta, the last play staged by the Circle Repertory company. According to a Newsday interview (May 16), she will appear in her father's The Last of the Thorntons this season at off-Broadway's Signature Theatre Company at the Peter Norton Space.
Designing Rita are Jeff Cowie (sets), Deborah Constantine (lighting), Debra Stein (costumes) and Fabian Obispo (sound).
46-year-old Hallie told Newsday (May 16) that working with two family members isn't all that different from other production situations. "When we work together, there is a sort of shorthand between us that makes it easy, but otherwise I don't feel like I'm working with my family," she said. "We are careful, bend over backwards not to show favoritism."
For tickets ($35) and information on When They Speak of Rita at Primary Stages, 354 West 45th Street, call the box office at (212) 333 4052.
-- By David Lefkowitz