David Saint, artistic director of New Jersey's George Street Theatre, forged a strong relationship with Anne Meara when he directed the New York, Los Angeles and NJ mountings of her acclaimed After-Play. So successful was that collaboration that Saint made room in the theatre's 1999-00 schedule for Meara's next play, Down The Garden Paths. A comedy-drama, Garden opened Nov. 23 and ends its scheduled run Dec. 19.
The story of a family gathering to celebrate the latest novel by an award winning author, Down The Garden Paths features an on-film cameo by Meara's real-life husband, Jerry Stiller, playing a quantum physicist. Stiller and Meara's real-life daughter, Amy Stiller, is also in the show. Adding further to the show's familial undercurrent are true life couple Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson, joined by their daughter, Roberta Wallach. Supporting castmembers include Michael Countryman, Angela Pietropinto, David Wohl and Ann McDonough.
The run is nearly sold out, according to George Street spokesperson Gabriel Shanks. CT's Long Wharf Theatre, co-producing the work, gets the play shortly after the new year. Sources say the show has a very strong chance of reaching New York after that. Shanks notes that small changes will be made between the New Jersey and Connecticut runs, including re shooting and re-editing the Stiller video sequence.
As for the performers, Jackson and Wallach have appeared together in such shows as Twice Around The Park and the recent Tennessee Williams Remembered. The younger Wallach received a Drama Desk nomination for playing the hellishly unpleasant daughter in Donald Margulies' The Model Apartment.
Designing The Garden Paths at George Street are Michael Elliott (lighting, recently replacing Howell Binkley, who's busy on Minnelli on Minnelli), James Youmans (set), Chris Bailey (sound) and David Murin (costumes). Meara's play is the second in a six-play George Street season, which started with a revised version of Do I Hear a Waltz. (That show, despite selling extremely well for George Street, received mixed notices and won't reach New York, though apparently there are some nibbles on the West Coast.) Here's the rest of the George Street line-up:
* Allan Knee's Syncopation will receive the second half of its world premiere in a production starring Mark Nelson, Jan. 8-Feb 6, 2000.
David Chandler (A Question of Mercy) and Lorca Simons (Collected Stories) star in this dance-oriented love story, which came to CT's Long Wharf first, Nov. 16-Dec. 19. Long Wharf's Greg Leaming directs.
A two-person romantic drama set in 1911 Manhattan, Syncopation is the story of Henry (Chandler) and Anna (Simons), unlikely lovers drawn to one another by dance. As they practice their skills together, the two fall in love. Knee is the author of The Man Who Was Peter Pan, Late Nite Comic, Second Avenue Rag and Shmulnik's Waltz.
Chandler, who played the doctor in Long Wharf's Mercy, which traveled to London, appeared on Broadway in Death of a Salesman. Simon played Lisa opposite Uta Hagan in Collected Stories and in the first national tour of Three Tall Women.
Jeffrey Lunden composed the score for the choreography by Willie Roserio. The design team includes Judy Gailen (sets), Jess Goldstein (costumes), Dan Kotlowitz (lighting) and Fabian Obispo (sound).
* Terrence McNally's Master Class will star Rita Moreno in a production directed by David Saint, Feb. 12-March 19. McNally's Class revolves around Maria Callas teaching students her lessons after her stellar career has begun to fade. Moreno starred in the movie version of "West Side Story." Other plays by McNally include Corpus Christi and The Ritz.
* Joe Orton's classic farce, Loot, will play next on the George Street Mainstage, March 25-April 23. Loot, one of Orton's later plays, won London's Evening Standard Award for Best Play in 1967. The comedy exposes five characters whose interactions revolve around a dead body, a coffin, and a lot of stolen money.
A sixth production, running April 29-May 28, 2000, has yet to be announced.
For tickets and information on the George Street Playhouse season call (732) 246-7717.
-- By David Lefkowitz