Broadway's Circle in the Square is finally getting a break. Just days before the the troubled institutional theatre reopened Feb. 20 with the U.S. premiere of Pam Gems' Stanley, the production won four of London's Olivier Awards, including Best Play and Best Actor. Since then, good reviews have made Stanley a strong candidate for play, direction and acting Tonys. Add to this the theatre's highly-publicized, new subscription plan, and Circle has something to celebrate.
According to spokesperson Michael Borowski, the theatre has gained 20,000 "members" (their word for "subscribers") thanks to a deal that allows people to purchase $37.50 subscriptions which enable them to buy $10 tickets to any performance during the season. A special offer in several newspapers and magazines (the Village Voice, Time Out) geared towards arts-loving readers who might not necessarily see much Broadway theatre, even allowed them to waive the $37.50 preliminary membership fee.
Stanley is scheduled to run through April 27 (the duration of the British cast's Equity contract), though, as reported by the New York Post, the producers are weighing the option to extend. No follow-up play has yet been chosen for the Circle In The Square season.
Circle In The Square is counting on Stanley to be the first step out of a long-term financial mess that nearly sank the company for good in 1996. To that end, new artistic director Gregory Mosher brought in Gems' English hit, Stanley, a Royal National Theatre production directed by John Caird (Les Miserables, Jane Eyre). Stanley features a cast of 12, including Antony Sher and Deborah Findlay. Sher, who won the Olivier as Best Actor, is a major English actor (Richard III at the Royal Shakespeare Company) making his American debut. Findlay won the Olivier as Best Supporting Actress. Based on the life of English painter, Sir Stanley Spencer (1891-1959), Stanley also won Best Set Design (Tim Hatley). Hatley's sets and costumes will be seen on Broadway.
Other cast members include Anna Chancellor (Patricia), Selina Cadell, Barbara Garrick, Peter Maloney, Chad Aaron, Victoria Boothby, Ken Kliban (who rose through the acting ranks at Circle Repertory), Alison Larkin, Jase Blankfort and Barton Tinapp. Andrew Lippa will serve as keyboardist for the show's music, composed by Ilona Sekacz. Lighting is by Peter Mumford.
Production spokesperson Jim Randolph said the drama has come to New York "intact," with no cuts or changes made for the Atlantic crossing.
With M. Edgar Rosenblum leaving Long Wharf Theatre to take a senior producing position at New York's Circle In The Square theatre, another element is in place for the beleaguered Broadway institution to begin righting itself. This past summer, after the resignation of founder Theodore Mann and jettisoning of new artistic director, Josephine Abady, Gregory Mosher came on board, hoping to rescue the playhouse from its dire financial straits.
"It's an impossible task," Mosher cheerily admitted in an autumn 1996 phone conversation with Playbill On-Line. "The odds are incredibly long, but that's why I felt the need to do it. Four years ago, I left Lincoln Center Theatre -- at the height of its popularity. We had critical and commercial success, but it wasn't fun anymore. It was getting repetitive, maintaining that success, and the challenge was over. It was much more satisfying when things were difficult."
Mosher reflects back on when he was first asked, by then-Mayor John Lindsay, to head Lincoln Center Theatre. "We did many, many lunches, and he was basically begging me, but there was no way I wanted to do it. But then he told me, `This isn't just about the theatre. It's like politics, this is public service. Fulfilling a basic public trust.' I came on in 1975."
"But Circle In The Square is going to be different from Lincoln Center. This is the 90's, so we need to take unusual steps, to explore the possibilities of the future of theatre in New York City. You know, four years ago, when I left Lincoln Center, I took a lot of heat for saying the theatre might be dying. And I admit, that came at a moment when I was losing interest. But I still stand by the statement. Look at radio drama. If you told people in the 1930's that radio drama would disappear in this country, they'd've looked at you like you were crazy. They had Jack Benny, the Shadow. Then came television ... Now theatre people tend to be smug and lazy, `Oh, the theatre will always be around, it'll always be important.' That's just not necessarily the case. We need to protect it, and re-invent it."
But that takes money, doesn't it? "The money will come from individuals and dedicated subsidizers," stated Mosher. "I have confidence, because there are three groups in New York, the artists and creators, the audience, and generous people who give to keep that going."
Regarding the creative direction Circle will pursue, Mosher hopes to dedicate the theatre to giving playwrights a place they can call home. "So many writers turn out great works because they have a PLACE they know their work will get produced. Circle Repertory was a home like that, for Craig Lucas, for Lanford [Wilson] and now THAT'S gone. And we need writers -- like Richard Nelson, Wallace Shawn -- who can have a home in New York."
That said, Circle In The Square's first production under the new regime will actually come from England. "I didn't see Stanley in London," explains Mosher, "but I read the script by Pam Gems and really liked it. The reason we're doing it here is that the show doesn't call for a proscenium stage -- and that's what nearly all the other Broadway theatres have." (Circle In The Square is a rounded playhouse, with the audience sitting on three sides looking down on a floor-level playing space.)
"We have so much preliminary work, and it's so behind-the-times here. We have two computers and they're not even compatible with each other. And you can't run a theatre on 6,000 subscribers. We need to find the new generation, to see what's out there, which is why I'm reading scripts like mad."
"I love the space, though," Mosher said of Circle, long regarded as a notoriously difficult house because actors' backs are to half the audience half the time. "It's like the Globe Theatre or the Newhouse. We're all in this place watching something together. It's my favorite space."
For tickets ($45) and information on Stanley call (212)239-6200.