As San Francisco's American Conservatory Theatre finishes up its hot ticket U.S. premiere of Tom Stoppard's The Invention of Love, Philadelphia's Wilma Theatre is readying its own production (the East Coast premiere) of the drama, running Feb. 9-March 26. Wilma co-artistic director Blanka Zizka stages the work, the fourth Stoppard play to be produced at the venue.
(Interest in the San Francisco production has carried over to the Wilma as well; the show has already been extended from an original closing date of March 12, and 13 performances have already sold out.)
Invention centers around English poet A.E. Housman (author of "A Shropshire Lad"), who, now old and infirm, dreams of his own death. In the dream, he revisits his Oxford college days and his first love, a male student. Homosexuality was still a crime back then, and the play also deals with a fellow "criminal" living out his final days: Oscar Wilde.
Martin Rayner, who appeared on Broadway in Conversations With My Father, and New Jersey Shakespeare Festival veteran Mark Alhadeff star as the old and young Housmans of the play, with George Tynan Crowley playing Wilde -- a role he's already essayed, in Florida Studio Theater's Gross Indecency. Also in the cast are H. Michael Walls, Eli Finkelman, Ian Merrill Peakes, Benjamin Lloyd, Lenny Haas, Edmund C. Davys, John Curless and Laurie Norton.
Designing Invention are Michael McGarty (set), Janus Stefanowitz (costumes), Russell Champa (lighting) and Adam Wernick (sound, original music). Wilma production spokesperson Damian J. Sinclair told Playbill On-Line the company's creative team have not seen the west coast production, though they are curious about it. "Our staging is really a visual masterpiece," Sinclair said. "We have a 14-foot, green human head on stage, a flying boat and beautiful lighting effects. It's a very visual, surreal and dreamy look."
Stoppard's other plays include Arcadia, Travesties and On the Razzle, all of which have been produced at the Wilma. The author's romantic comedy-drama, The Real Thing, is having a Broadway revival this spring. As for the San Francisco mounting of Invention, that production features James Cromwell (filmdom's "Babe") and is being eyed for New York possibilities.
Next up (May 3-June 4) at the Wilma will be David Gow's Cherry Docs, a drama about a Jewish lawyer who has to defend a neo-Nazi. Directing the U.S. premiere of this Canadian play will be co-artistic director Jizi Ziska.
Tickets for the Wilma Theatre's Invention of Love run $7-$38. The show plays at the Wilma, Broad & Spruce Streets in Philadelphia. For information call (215) 546-7824.
-- By David Lefkowitz