Now at NJ's McCarter Theatre is the newest play by Richard Greenberg, author of the recent Off-Broadway hit, Three Days of Rain. McCarter artistic director Emily Mann stages Greenberg's Safe As Houses, which runs to April 5.
The play is set on a summer evening in 1980 when the young guest of a privileged family inadvertently learns more about his hosts' private lives than he bargained for. He's soon pulled into the family's web of secrets. After its development in the McCarter Lab, Mann called Safe as Houses "Greenberg's finest play to date and a major American drama."
Starring in the show, which opened Mar. 20, are Michael Learned and David Margulies. Learned is best known for playing the mom on TV's "The Waltons," though she's also done Arthur Miller at Williamstown (The Ride Down Mt. Morgan), Edward Albee on tour (Three Tall Women) and Wendy Wasserstein on Broadway (The Sisters Rosensweig). Margulies just finished an extended Off-Broadway run of his solo, Bashevis. His Broadway credits include Conversations With My Father, Angels in America and Comedians.
Also in the cast are Leslie Ayvazian, best known for penning the drama Nine Aremians; Barbara Garrick (Eastern Standard), Gus Rogerson (Six Degrees of Separation), Frederick Weller (the recent Broadway Little Foxes) and five-year-old Sam Blackman Boyles.
Building the McCarter's Houses are Thomas Lynch (set), Jennifer von Mayrhauser (costumes) and Peter Kaczorowski (lighting). Baikida Carroll provides original music for the production. Interviewed by New Jersey critic Simon Saltzman for "This Month ON STAGE" theatre magazine (Late Spring 1998), Greenberg said he was reluctant, at first, to bring such an intimate work to the McCarter, "but now I'm calmer...knowing that [Emily] Mann will lead the way." Greenberg had handed her what was by his own admission "an unwieldy" script two and a half years ago. Nevertheless, "when she got to the last page," he said, "she made an offer. It wasn't anything she said but rather the gestalt of our meeting atop the Marriott Marquis that made me realize Emily was the right director for my play."
Early Greenberg works were staged at CA's South Coast Rep, where audiences "are quite good, smart and generous." Greenberg has less nice words for Manhattan Theatre Club, home of his more recent Three Days of Rain and The Extra Man. He fears he's become "complacent" there because of the subscription audience's old-fashioned tastes. "They're dead," he said.
As for Houses, Greenberg says the rehearsal process has forced him to work harder than he has in awhile. "Usually I go into rehearsal fairly clear about the spots to rewrite, the troubles, and all that," Greenberg told This Month ON STAGE. "But there is a certain density about this play, a spanning-ness about it that made it less obvious to me... It isn't a series of tight brief scenes. [It] flowers more, rather than getting to the blackout or the punchline."
This season will also see the premiere of another Greenberg work, Hurrah at Last to play at South Coast Repertory. Greenberg's other plays include Eastern Standard and Night and Her Stars.
In other McCarter news, May 5-May 24 will bring The Captain's Tiger, Athol Fugard's autobiographical story of a young writer haunted by a cherished photograph of his mother as a young woman. The mainstage show opens May 8.
Fugard directs and stars in the play (as he did in Valley Song), which premiered in Pretoria, South Africa in late August. Following the opening night, Fugard jotted a note to McCarter's artistic director Mann, who was also in attendance: "...a thrilling launch last night. Individual response after the show leaves me in no doubt we have on our hands a play that works."
Classical music, world music, dance and jazz series will also be on the McCarter schedule. For information on The McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ, winner of the 1994 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre, call (609) 683-8000.
-- By David Lefkowitz