Violet and Julie Harris Roses on Tap for Seattle's ACT

News   Violet and Julie Harris Roses on Tap for Seattle's ACT
Seattle's A Contemporary Theatre has announced seven shows for its 1998 season, including a world premiere starring Julie Harris and a new play by John "Voice of the Prairie" Olive.

Seattle's A Contemporary Theatre has announced seven shows for its 1998 season, including a world premiere starring Julie Harris and a new play by John "Voice of the Prairie" Olive.

Here's the ACT line-up -- the second for artistic director Gordon Edelstein:

* Scent of the Roses, world premiere of a new play by South African playwright Lisette Lecat Ross, starring five-time Tony winner (and ten-time nominee) Julie Harris, starting July 17. Harris will portray Annalise Morant, a South African woman whose children wish her to part with her most cherished possession, a mysterious and valuable painting. The drama unfolds as we discover what special significance the artist and the painting hold for Annalise.

Though seen locally as Lettice Dufay in the national tour of Lettice & Lovage, Harris will be making her first appearance with a resident Seattle Theatre Company, a fact that thrills ACT's new artistic director Gordon Edelstein to no end. "She's a national treasure" says Edelstein, "And even though I'd planned on only six plays for the mainstage this year, I couldn't deny myself or ACT's audience such an incredible treat."
Harris' vast resume includes such landmark Broadway roles as Frankie in Member of the Wedding, Sally Bowles in I Am A Camera, Mary Todd in The Last of Mrs. Lincoln, Emily Dickinson in The Belle of Amherst, and even a musical role as Georgina in Skyscraper, the 1965 musical version of Elmer Rice's Dream Girl. (July 17-Aug. 16)

* Thunder Knocking on the Door, Keith Glover's blues musical about a magical guitar's effect on a poor black family. The drama, which uses the 12-bar blues format even in dialogue, premiered at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. Other Glover works include Dancing On Moonlight and Coming Of The Hurricane. ACT had intended to stage Thunder this past season, but postponed when Glover decided to rework the score with composer Keb' Mo', Chris Cain & Michael Butler. (May 8-June 7). * Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller's Pulitzer-winner will star E.R.'s John Aylward. (A Paper Mill Playhouse mounting this spring will feature Ralph Waite.) Miller is in the middle of a New York renaissance, what with acclaimed revivals of A View From The Bridge and All My Sons at the Roundabout, and a whole season of shows at the Signature Theatre. (May 22-June 21) Salesman is Arthur Miller's arguably tragic look at the downfall of an ordinary man whose company no longer needs him. A regular on TV's "ER," lead actor Aylward's ACT credits include such shows as Glengarry Glen Ross and On The Razzle. He also appeared on Broadway in The Kentucky Cycle.

* Collected Stories, Donald Margulies' drama of a writing teacher and the student who tries to eclipse her. Other plays by Margulies include What's Wrong With This Picture? and The Loman Family Picnic. The show premiered at CA's South Coast Rep and played Off Broadway at Manhattan Theatre Club. (July 10-Aug. 9)

* Summer Moon, developed with funding from DC's Kennedy Center, is by John Olive, author of The Voice of the Prairie. Summer Moon (whose title is shortened from "I Clap My Hands/And With The Echoes It Begins To Rise/The Summer Moon," tells of a Japanese survivor of Hiroshima moving to California and partnering with a strong willed Japanese-American woman in trying to bring Japanese cars to America during the post-War years. Other Olive plays include Evelyn And The Polka King and Standing On My Knees. Developed at UT's Sundance Lab and CA's South Coast Rep, Summer Moon will be directed by ACT associate artistic director, Leslie Swackhamer.

* Quills, Doug Wright's controversial Off-Broadway hit about the Marquis de Sade, set in an 1807 insane asylum. "I couldn't decide if [de Sade] was a satiric genius or a toxic pornographer," Wright has said, citing de Sade's "outrageous social commentary and darker primal content." Quills won a Best Play OBIE for the 1995 New York Theatre Workshop production.

* Violet, a musical by Jeanine Tesori (music) and Brian Crawley (book & lyrics), based on Doris Betts' story, "The Ugliest Pilgrim." Susan H. Schulman, who staged the piece at Playwrights Horizons, will again direct. Violet tells of a young woman, physically scarred in an accident with her father's axe, who sets off on a pilgrimage to find a healer. Along the way she meets two soldiers, one white, one black. Songs in the show include "Lonely Stranger," "Bring Me To Light" and "Down The Mountain."


Prior to the official ACT season, comedy legends Elaine May and Alan Arkin star in the world premiere of Power Plays, an evening of three one-act comedies, at A Contemporary Theatre (ACT) in Seattle.

Written and performed by May and Arkin, Power Plays begins previews Mar. 6, opens Mar. 12 and runs through Mar. 29 as a special non subscription event.

The show is being produced in association with Julian Schlossberg, Meyer Ackerman and Ben Sprecher prior to its Off-Broadway engagement in April.

The first act, written by May, concerns a busy executive and her mousy secretary. In the second act, by Arkin, two would-be criminals rehearse a crime. The third act, by May, is a farce that erupts in a dentist's office.

Arkin is directing. Also in the cast are May's daughter, Jeanne Berlin, an Academy Award nominee for her supporting role in The Heartbreak Kid, and Arkin's son, Anthony.

According to the NY Times, the evening came about when Arkin sent his one act, Virtual Reality, to producer Julian Schlossberg. May saw the reader and added her own play, The Way Of All Fish, to the evening. Later, she wrote the third piece, the farcical Dr. Kastenbaum's End. The latter piece will feature Arkin as a dentist and May as his assistant.

The last time the two worked together as actors was when they were both in different Chicago improv troupes in the 1950s.

Arkin is best known for his film work (Catch 22, Simon) but his theatre credits include directing The Soft Touch in Boston in 1975 and Jules Feiffer's The White House Murder Case Off Broadway in 1970, as well as the original Sunshine Boys and Little Murders. Arkin's son, Adam, is also a stage and television actor, best known for playing Dr. Shutt in "Chicago Hope." May's plays include Adaptation and Not Enough Rope.

Designing Power Plays will be Michael McGarty (Master Class, Cakewalk) on sets; Jane Greenwood (Scarlet Pimpernel) on costumes, Adam Silverman on lighting and Tom Morse on sound.


Founded in 1965 by Gregory A. Falls, ACT dedicates itself to producing new works. Having recently moved downtown, ACT now produces plays on two different stages.

Artistic director Edelstein, staged The Homecoming on Broadway and the world premiere of Arthur Miller's The Last Yankee. He served as associate artistic director of both New Haven CT's Long Wharf Theatre and MA's Berkshire Theatre Festival.

Said Swackhamer, who served as interim artistic director before Edelstein arrived, "Gordon's work with playwrights such as Donald Margulies, Constance Congdon, Mac Wellman and Joyce Carol Oates shows a level of vision and style that will be invigorating to ACT and to the Seattle community." Swackhamer is now associate artistic director at ACT.

A Contemporary Theatre is located at 700 Union St., downtown Seattle. For tickets ($29-$45), call (206) 292-7676.

-- By David-Edward Hughes and David Lefkowitz

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