While NY's Signature gets ready to launch Mr. Peters' Connections, the last entry in its full season devoted to Arthur Miller, the company has just announced (via The New York Times, May 15) the next two years' honorees: John Guare and Maria Irene Fornes.
Though Guare is considered a more commercial playwright, due mainly to the Broadway success of The House of Blue Leaves and Six Degrees of Separation, both playwrights tend to veer from familiar topics and structures. Some of Guare's more offbeat works are under strongest consideration for the Signature season, such as Marco Polo Sings A Solo, Rich and Famous and Bosoms and Neglect. In a 1997 interview with Playbill On-Line, playwright Paula Vogel cited Bosoms as one of the more influential and devastating experiences in her years of going to the theatre.
Guare told the Times he also expects to world premiere a play that will complete his "Nantucket Trilogy," which he termed, "My 20th century novel plays." His libretto for Two Gentlemen of Verona won a Tony in 1981.
Fornes is the more experimental dramatist, having worked Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway for 30 years. Her latest play, The Summer in Gossenssass, looked at the influence of Hedda Gabler on the women of its generation. Other Fornes plays include Mud, Fefu And Her Friends, Abingdon Square, Terra Incognita and The Conduct of Life.
Signature artistic director James Houghton said of Fornes, "Here is a writer who has in a major way contributed to the theatrical richness of the Off-Broadway movement. Putting together a season for Irene gives us a chance to develop a context for her." As for the company's 10th anniversary season (2000-01), Houghton is bringing back the nine previous playwrights, each with a world-premiere play. The artistic director told the Times he had commitments for new plays from Guare, Edward Albee, Horton Foote, Lee Blessing and Romulus Linney. He also expected works from Adrienne Kennedy, Sam Shepard and Arthur Miller. Spokesperson James Morrison told Playbill On-Line, "Clearly it'll be impossible to do 10 shows within a season as full productions. I figure Jim would want to pair up some of the plays, such as an evening of three one-acts."
And speaking of Miller, Peter Falk, best known as star of TV's "Colombo," stars in Miller's aforementioned new play, Mr. Peters' Connections, Apr. 28-June 21. The Signature Theatre opening is Sunday, May 17.
Falk, who began his New York stage career in 1956 with The Iceman Cometh, appeared frequently on Broadway before his run in "Columbo." Appearances include The Passion of Josef D. (as Joseph Stalin) in 1964 and Neil Simon's The Prisoner of Second Avenue in 1971.
The New York Times described Mr. Peters' Connections as "a combination fantasia, comedy and memory play about a former pilot trying to figure out what happened to his life."
Falk described Mr. Peters' Connections to Variety as "a hilarious comedy about an ex-fighter pilot from WWII -- who is now older than anyone he ever knew. He is mystified by the contemporary scene. For instance, 'Why would penile augmentation cost $4,400 and hymen reconstruction $400 less?'"
Signature has devoted its entire 1997-98 season to the work of Miller, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Death of a Salesman. Miller's The American Clock opened the 1997-98 season in October, followed by two one-acts: I Can't Remember Anything and The Last Yankee, which ran through Feb. 8.
Miller was on hand for a Sept. 9, 1997 morning press conference at the recently constructed Signature space, 555 West 42nd St., as were artistic director Jim Houghton, architect Mitchell Kurtz and set designer E. David Cosier.
In remarks to the assembled, Miller stressed that his early, best-known works were created in a different atmosphere than exists on Broadway today. "The Group Theatre was so important to the process. People were engaged to create, and felt connected, to each other and to the same ideals. That doesn't happen overnight. Today we don't have `theatre' in America, we have `shows.' It's a crapshoot. Last time I was in a theatre they were pouring the concrete for the Mitzi Newhouse at Lincoln Center. But that, too, became commercial. I hope this place will have the same spiritual engagement of those early years."
Amidst the clanging, whirring, banging and whizzing of workmen's tools, the three men (and, temporarily, Houghton's young son, Henry) took seats in the unfinished room, with invited press sitting opposite on wooden risers. Also onhand were cast members of the season's first show, The American Clock, beginning the first day of rehearsal at the Raw Space next door.
"We searched for four years," Houghton told the assembled, "and over 250 spaces for a home. We'd really wanted the Provincetown Playhouse but that fell through. Then we talked to Eric Krebs, who started doing renovation on this space a year ago. He asked if we were ready to continue the renovations and take over, so we did [for a 14-year lease]. Also helping was a $1.5 million capital campaign, $1 million of which was raised very quickly, thanks especially to the Laura Pels Foundation." 71 percent of the $1.5 million has now been raised, with a goal of Sept. 1988 set for the whole amount.
Architect Kurtz then pointed out the desired design for the space would pay particular attention to the size of the stage in relation to the 160 seats in the audience. "We want a lot of stage, a lot of art. It should be prominent and reach from your eyes to my eyes. It should feel like, `come on over, we're gonna read a play in my apartment tonight. That's the feel. Plus the notion of a library, a civic space. There will be several `walls of words' on display; words that will change every year.
"Insulation will also be important," added Kurtz, "so actors can use their full, dynamic range of voice." The space is 45' X 85' with an 22' grid height, equipped with air conditioning, wheelchair accessibility and concessions facility. Kurtz's other designs include those for New York Theatre Workshop, Playwrights Horizons and Arkansas Rep.
Founded in 1991, Signature Theatre Company spent its first six seasons focusing on the works of Lee Blessing, Romulus Linney, Edward Albee, Horton Foote, Adrienne Kennedy and Sam Shepard respectively. (One of the Foote plays premiered there, The Young Man From Atlanta, went on to receive the Pulitzer Prize and have a Broadway engagement.)
Three seasons ago, the company was housed at the (now vanished) 77-seat theatre at Kampo Cultural Center downtown. The last two seasons were at the Public Theatre space. Producer and owner of the West 42nd St. space, Krebs has stated, "Playwright John Ford Noonan said to me, `You know why I like Signature Theatre Company? -- They give working playwrights hope.'"
For memberships (starting at $90) and information on the Signature Theatre season call (212) 244-PLAY.