Tony Kushner, Ellen McLaughlin, Suzan-Lori Parks, Mark Wing-Davey and Keith David. Now, if you were to go to only one place in America hoping to find all of these artists, where would you go? The Public Theater, of course, and that's just where they all will be during the 2001-02 season. Indeed, the upcoming roster at the Public has the feel of a family reunion. All the above playwrights, directors and actors have put in a great deal of time at the Public. By the end of the coming season, Parks will have had three of her plays staged at the theatre in as many years — a relationship with a single company of which few dramatists can boast.
Parks' new work is called Fucking A (yet another title, after John Henry Redwood's No Niggers, No Jews, No Dogs, that the New York Times will never be able to print). The play represents her second exploration into themes inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic novel, "The Scarlet Letter," the first being 1999's In the Blood. Ellen McLaughlin's new play also has the feeling of an obsession revisited. Several years back, there was an Off-Broadway production of Iphigenia and Other Daughters, in which McLaughlin took a post-modern look at Agamemnon's wife and his daughters, including the title character, who was sacrificed to the gods so that Agamemnon's forces might sail to and engage rival Troy. McLaughlin's new play is titled simply, Helen, as in "of Troy." I think it's safe to say that both Parks and McLaughlin know their interests.
If there's an oddball among the familiar faces on the Public's 2001-02 bill, it's Elaine Stritch, who will (no doubt, happily) talk about herself in the one-woman show Elaine Stritch at Liberty. The piece is “constructed by Elaine Stritch, reconstructed by John Lahr” and directed by George C. Wolfe.
The awards season began in earnest April 2 with the nominations for this year's Lucille Lortel Awards, honoring Off-Broadway (this is the first year the Lortels has indulged in nominations). There were few surprises; Proof, Jitney, Ten Unknowns and The Unexpected Man all did well. The awards ceremony will be held on May 7 and hosted by actor Alan Cumming (who, ironically, has never performed Off Broadway).
The two major musical revivals of last season announced new leading players. Marin Mazzie will finally end her long run in Kiss Me, Kate, bequeathing her Dior knock-offs to Carolee Carmello, who will begin performances as Lilli Vanessi on May 29. Meanwhile, Craig Bierko will exit River City after one year as Harold Hill. Taking his place as The Music Man on May 8 will be the "Will" of television's "Will & Grace," Eric McCormack. In other casting news, "Saturday Night Live" veteran Jon Lovitz joins Neil Simon's The Dinner Party June 5, replacing Henry Winkler. And Chuck Cooper will take his first stab at Chicago's slick Billy Flynn on April 12. James Goldman and Stephen Sondheim's Follies opened at the Belasco Theatre on April 5. The Roundabout Theatre Company revival will be around at least through Sept. 30. Marie Jones' award-winning comedy, Stones in His Pockets opens April 1 at the John Golden Theatre, earning plaudits for its dexterous original London stars, Conleth Hill and Sean Campion. Off-Broadway, John Henry Redwood's No Niggers, No Jews, No Dogs, opened April 2 at Primary Stages. Peter Nichols' Passion Play, seen on Broadway under the title Passion back in 1983, bowed on April 4. The Off-Off-Broadway musical comedy, Urinetown!, began a month of previews April 1, and Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s Lackawanna Blues got underway April 6 at the Public Theater.
Finally, it looks as though the protests that Alan Bennett's The Lady in the Van was "too English" a play to transfer to New York City were unfounded. Broadway will get the whimsical, autobiographical tale in late 2002, with the original star Maggie Smith, and a bonus cast member: Bennett playing himself. News of Bennett's acting turn comes only a week after it became known that Harold Pinter would appear in one of his own plays at the Lincoln Center Festival this summer. And wasn't it only a couple seasons back that playwright David Hare starred in his play, Via Dolorosa, on Broadway? I can't think of a single American playwright who's in the habit of speaking his or her own words on stage. Who says the British are the reserved ones?
—By Robert Simonson