The Purple Rose Theatre Company, Jeff Daniels' resident professional theatre in Chelsea, MI, will present three world premieres in its 2001 season, including a new Lanford Wilson commission, The Rain Dance.
Pulitzer Prize-winner Wilson and director Marshall W. Mason gave acting student Daniels a break 20 years ago in New York, and when film star Daniels moved back to Michigan he sought to start a company like Circle Rep, the artistic home of Wilson and Mason.
The Equity company with a 119-seat theatre has been devoted to stories by Midwest writers or about the Midwest. Missouri native Wilson's Book of Days premiered at the Purple Rose in 1998, and his popular The Hot l Baltimore was revived there, as well.
The Rain Dance is to be directed by PRTC artistic director Guy Sanville and plays Jan. 11-March 17, 2001. The play is described thus in the season announcement: "Amidst the tranquil beauty of the desert Southwest, a young American scientist is joined by a German colleague, his wife, and a Native American soldier 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?"
Wilson's Book of Days had an extended run in 1998, got widely divided Detroit reviews and went on to win a New Play Award from the American Theatre Critics Association in 1999. It was subsequently co-produced by Repertory Theatre of St. Louis and Hartford Stage under the direction of Mason, with some of the original cast members. 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, 2001), 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, has played successfully at the 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, has become Detroit's longest-running theatrical production in its Gem engagement (surpassing the Gem's All Night Strut!). It closes 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, 2001.
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 emerged as a playwright there, seeing the stagings of Apartment 3A, The Tropical Pickle, Shoe Man, The Vast Difference, Boom Town and Thy Kingdom's Coming, which opened an Off-Broadway staging in 1999, presented by the Barrrow Group. Daniels directed his own 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.
Semi-rural Chelsea, MI, home of Jiffy baking mixes, is 60 miles west of Detroit. For information, call (734) 433-ROSE or visit the website at http://www.purplerosetheatre.org. For Gem Theatre information, call (313) 963-9800 or visit the website at http://gemtheatre.com.
— By Kenneth Jones