Takes a Look at the 2008 Off-Broadway Season

News Takes a Look at the 2008 Off-Broadway Season
If a scholar of the American theatre wanted to discover the state of female talent in the present day, he could do no better than to look to the winter and spring Off-Broadway season.
Kathleen Turner
Kathleen Turner

Among the women devoting themselves to New York's smaller stages in the next five months are actresses Dianne Wiest, Mercedes Ruehl, Lynn Redgrave, Mary-Louise Parker, Linda Lavin, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Joanna Gleason, Kathleen Chalfant, Natasha Lyonne, Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe, Jayne Houdyshell, Maria Tucci; playwrights Caryl Churchill, Rinne Groff, Sarah Ruhl and Beth Henley; and directors Leigh Silverman, Pam MacKinnon, Anne Bogart, Carolyn Cantor and Kathleen Turner (yes, director).

To begin, let's clear up that Turner business. The film and stage star, most recently seen on Broadway in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, has decided to test the director's chair for comfort. She will be staging a new revival of Beth Henley's sisterly yarn Crimes of the Heart at the Roundabout Theatre Company's Laura Pels Theatre. Turner previously shaped the work at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. The cast is a choice one: Jennifer Dundas, Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe, Jessica Stone. Given Turner's noted ferocity on and off stage, if I were one of those actresses, I'd do as I was told. Previews begin Jan. 16.

An actress with as commanding a presence as Turner, Mercedes Ruehl, will star as sculptor Louise Nevelson in Edward Albee's The Occupant at the Signature Theatre Company beginning May 6. Few saw the premiere of this play in 2002 because star Anne Bancroft was ill and only did a few performances. Ruehl starred in Albee's The Goat a few years back. Pam McKinnon directs.

McKinnon has a full schedule this spring. She will also helm The Four of Us, a new play by Itmar Moses at Manhattan Theatre Club's Stage II. A successful novelist and a struggling playwright are at the core of the story's conflict. Previews begin March 6. Also at MTC this spring will be From Up Here, a new play from the all-girl team of playwright Liz Flahive and director Leigh Silverman.

Silverman has become quite well-employed since bringing Lisa Kron's Well to Broadway. Having just staged David Henry Hwang's Yellow Face at the Public Theater, she will next do some Hunting and Gathering with playwright Brooke Berman at Primary Stages. Berman's latest, beginning Jan. 22, is about Craig's List, laptops, IKEA and personal aimlessness, among other things. Silverman will then vacate the director's chair at Primary Stages in favor of a fellow sister, Carolyn Cantor, who will direct Joanna Gleason in Willy Holtzman's Something You Did, about what happens when a '60s radical gets out of jail after 30 years for her part in an accidental killing. Another playwright of Berman's generation, the on-a-roll Sarah Ruhl, will see her play Dead Man's Cell Phone produced at Playwrights Horizons beginning Feb. 8. Avant-gardist Anne Bogart will direct Bill Camp (the dead man), Mary-Louise Parker (who finds the phone and ends up comforting people who call it) and Kathleen Chalfant.

Later in the Playwrights Horizons season, actress Celia Keenan-Bolger, lately of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and Les Misérables, will dominate the stage as the star of Saved. The world-premiere musical by Michael Friedman, John Dempsey and Rinne Groff is about Mary (Keenan-Bolger), a student at American Eagle Christian High School who attempts to "save" her boyfriend who thinks he's gay. Gary Griffin directs. Previews begin May 9.

Lynn Redgrave

Lynn Redgrave plays the title character in Grace, a new work Mick Gordon and AC Grayling about a brilliant professor who calmly lectures the world about the absurdity of "God"—until her son decides to become a priest. Previews begin for the MCC Theatre production Jan. 23 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. A similar crisis occurs in Mike Leigh's Two Thousand Years, the latest play by the English playwright to be directed by Scott Elliot for The New Group. The world of a London family who are Jewish only in the cultural sense is rocked when their son suddenly starts wearing a skullcap and saying his prayers. Among the stars are Laura Esterman and Natasha Lyonne. Previews begin at the Acorn Jan. 15. More parent-child problems are to be found in Chekhov's classic The Seagull, being revived at Classic Stage Company. Dianne Wiest is the monstrously vain and careless actress Madame Arkadina, and Alan Cumming is her younger, novelist lover. Russian director Viacheslav Dolgachev will have theatre reporters doubting their pronunciation all spring. Previews begin Feb. 20.

A more modern version of family strife is depicted in the new Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey musical Next to Normal at Second Stage, beginning Jan. 16. The story of one family just trying to hold it to together stars Alice Ripley and Brian d'Arcy James. Still more 21st-century problems are explored in Paul Rudnick's collection of one-act plays The New Century, starting March 20 at Lincoln Center Theater's Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre. Nicholas Martin directs a cast, which will include Peter Bartlett, Jayne Houdyshell and the redoubtable Linda Lavin.

At the Public Theater, one of the leading female playwrights in the world, England's Caryl Churchill —whose Top Girls is due soon on Broadway — will bring, with director James McDonald, Drunk Enough to Say I Love You?. Previews begin March 7.

And Now, the Men

Of course, there are some manly productions in the coming months. And some manly men — including one who is possibly the manliest man in the American theatre. Playwright Sam Shepard will spend the late spring at the Public Theater Kicking a Dead Horse, which is the title of his new play. Shepard himself will direct star Stephen Rea in the tale of a Manhattan art dealer and — what else? — the myth of the West. (This is Shepard, after all.) Previews begin June 17.

Irish playwright Conor McPherson, an expert in male drunkenness and debauchery, is back with Port Authority, at the Atlantic Theatre Company, beginning April 30. Henry Wishcamper directs the yarn about three luckless generations of Irishmen. The Atlantic is, in fact, brimming with testosterone this year, as is befitting a company co-founded by David Mamet. Currently, Almost an Evening, a collection of one-acts, marks the playwriting debut of filmmaker Ethan Coen. That production is directed by Atlantic artistic director Neil Pepe, who will also direct Jez Butterworth's Parlour Song, which will begin Feb. 8 on Atlantic's mainstage.

MCC will continue its relationship with that master of male behavior, Neil LaBute, when it produces reasons to be pretty in May. The play, closing a trilogy of works with the same theme that includes The Shape of Things and Fat Pig,, is about a guy who makes the mistake of saying a woman has a prettier face than does his girlfriend.

Philip Seymour Hoffman

LAByrinth Theatre Company is a troupe not unknown for its male prowess, having fostered the stage careers of playwrights Stephen Adly Guirgis and John Ortiz. Another of its male playwrights, Brett C. Leonard, will see new work Unconditional produced, beginning Feb. 7. Called "incendiary," the piece is composed of nine New York stories which "converge in a racially and sexually charged tale of rage, love, justice and betrayal." Mark Wing-Davey directs. Next on the roster for LAByrinth Theater Company will be Guirgis' own The Little Flower of East Orange, directed by LAB co-artistic director Philip Seymour Hoffman. The show, which will begin March 18, centers on the tale of an ailing woman who unknowingly ends up at an upper Manhattan charity hospital while her son struggles to deal with her condition. What could be more male than a drama of ancient Rome? Richard Nelson, in his Conversations in Tusculum, collects Brutus, Cassius, Cicero and others in a room to ask the non-musical question, "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Julius Caesar"? In the cast are Aidan Quinn, Brian Dennehy, David Strathairn, Maria Tucci, Joe Grifasi and Gloria Reuben. Performances begin Feb. 19 at the Public Theater.

Other shows of note coming up in the coming months include: April Yvette Thompson's Liberty City at New York Theatre Workshop directed by Jessica Blank; David Ives' latest play, New Jerusalem, currently at the Flea Theatre; Paradise Park, part of the Charles Mee season at the Signature; the new Mark Mulcahy-Ben Katchor musical, The Slug Bearers of Kayrol Island (or the Friends of Dr. Rushower) at the Vineyard Theatre; a new revival of Christopher Durang's The Marriage of Bette and Boo at the Roundabout, directed by Walter Bobbie; The Drunken City, a new play by Adam Bock, directed by Trip Cullman, at Playwrights Horizons; and downtown experimental troupe Elevator Repair Service's new show, an adaptation of Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, at New York Theatre Workshop.

(Author's note: Because the Off-Broadway season is so very expansive, not every play due to open this winter and fall could be addressed. This listing of shows should not be considered comprehensive.)

Fyvush Finkel, Richard Easton, director Walter Bobbie, Jeremy Strong and playwright David Ives.
Fyvush Finkel, Richard Easton, director Walter Bobbie, Jeremy Strong and playwright David Ives.
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