The world premiere production of Lanford Wilson's Atomic-Age play, Rain Dance, beginning previews Jan. 11, will be the first staging at the Purple Rose Theatre Company's renovated facility in Chelsea, MI.
PRTC artistic director Guy Sanville stages the new work, set in Los Alamos, NM, in 1945. According to the announcement, "Rain Dance centers on a young American scientist (played by Matt Letscher) who leaves New York to work on a top-level project in Los Alamos in 1945. Amidst the tranquil beauty of the desert Southwest, he is joined by a German colleague (played by Paul Hopper), his wife (Suzi Regan) and a Native American soldier (Billy Merasty) on the eve of an historic breakthrough. Within the next 24 hours, the culmination of their work will unfold and disrupt the serenity of the New Mexico mountains. As destiny approaches, will the quality of their lives, along with the rest of humanity, ever be the same?"
Letscher returns to the Purple Rose, the resident professional troupe founded by film and theatre actor Jeff Daniels, after an absence of eight years. He's been performing regionally and in New York; Hopper is one of Michigan's favorite character actors; Regan is a Purple Rose resident artist who memorably appeared in the troupe's lauded world premiere of Wilson's Book of Days (and with subsequent stagings seen in St. Louis and Hartford); and Merasty makes his Purple Rose debut.
This is the second Purple Rose commission for Wilson, whose Book of Days won the 1998 Best New American Play Award from the American Theatre Critics Association. His plays include the Pulitzer Prize-winning Talley's Folly, plus Balm in Gilead, The Rimers of Eldritch, The Hot l Baltimore, 5th of July, Burn This and Redwood Curtain.
Designers are Vincent Mountain (set), Dana White (lighting), Rebecca Ann Valentino (costumes), Danna Segrest (props) and Suzi Regan (sound design). The press performance is Jan. 19, official gala opening is Jan. 20. Performances continue to Feb. 11, although an extension is expected.
Tickets are $17.50-$32.50. For reservations, call (734) 433-ROSE.
Pulitzer Prize-winner Wilson and director Marshall W. Mason gave acting student Daniels a break 20 years ago in New York, and after he became "film star" Jeff Daniels and moved back to Michigan, he sought to start a company like Circle Rep, the Manhattan artistic home of Wilson and Mason between 1969-1995.
Since 1991, the Equity company with a 119-seat theatre has been devoted to stories by Midwest writers or about the Midwest. It has been a forum for many emerging playwrights, including Daniels himself, who kept audiences laughing and thinking with Apartment 3A, Shoe Man, Boom Town, Thy Kingdom's Coming, The Vast Difference and more over the years. The building shut down in 1999 to begin a renovation-construction plan.
Also blooming at the Purple Rose in 2001 are Orphan Train: An American Melodrama, by Dennis E. North, directed by Sanville (April 12-June 16), and Completing Dahlia, "an adult comedy" by Annie Martin, directed by Anthony Caselli (July 12-Sept. 1).
Orphan Train gets this description in the season announcement: "The 1920's and '30's were difficult times with families losing their farms to foreclosure and bankruptcy. During that period, a train crossed the heartland with a mission of placing orphan children with new families, offering hope for a new beginning. Somewhere along this altruistic passage of uniting the children with a promising future, corruption and greed threatened to derail their happiness. A heart-warming story unfolds about good vs. evil in a world premiere suitable for the whole family."
Completing Dahlia is described thus: "Dahlia Newburg is an attractive modern woman seeking the ultimate satisfaction in the new millennium. Is her lover enough of a man to give it to her? Should she follow her mother's advice? Or should she place herself in the hands of Dr. Kazooke, a new age counselor with unconventional methods? Laughs abound in this new comedy recommended for mature audiences only."
The Purple Rose was razed and reconstructed on the same site over the past year, and a past hit, Escanaba in da Moonlight, by playwright Daniels, has played successfully at the historic Gem Theatre in Detroit since September 1999, during the PRTC mainstage hiatus. Escanaba, penned by Daniels and staged at the Purple Rose in 1995 and 1997, became Detroit's longest-running theatrical production in its Gem engagement (surpassing the Gem's All Night Strut!). It closed Dec. 31. The play has been made into a film with Daniels and Harve Presnell and is seeking distribution.
Daniels' The Tropical Pickle, which premiered at Purple Rose in 1992, will be remounted at the Gem beginning Feb. 21.
Purple Rose managing director Alan Ribant previously told Playbill On Line that changes to the 119-seat Garage Theatre, the company's home since 1991, would include adding about 40 new seats, taking the capacity to 160-165, and expanding lobby, office and rehearsal areas.
Daniels has used the PRTC as a canvas for Midwest acting, directing and playwriting talent. Daniels directed work at PRTC but has not yet acted there.
The 80-year-old theatre space, in Daniels' boyhood hometown (where he still lives), has served as a bus and truck repair shop, a pizza joint, a fruit and vegetable market, a car storage garage and a plumbing parts store. The troupe's name is drawn from "The Purple Rose of Cairo," the Woody Allen film that starred Daniels.
Semi-rural Chelsea, MI, home of Jiffy baking mixes, is 60 miles west of Detroit. Visit the website at www.purplerosetheatre.org.
— By Kenneth Jones