What with a recent, high-profile revival of Tiny Alice, the surprise success of The Play About the Baby Off-Broadway and plans being readied for the winter Broadway premiere of The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?, playwright Edward Albee has earned the right to pull a switcheroo. As such, the promised world premiere of I Think Back Now on Andre Gide has been pulled from the Signature Theatre line-up and replaced with another premiere by the prolific playwright: The Occupant. The drama will play in the same dates once reserved for Gide, starting Feb. 5, opening Feb. 24 and running through March 17, 2002.
The play covers the life of artist Louise Nevelson, to be played by Anne Bancroft.
"It's about a woman fighting the traditions and conventions she was forced into in order to find her own path in life," Bancroft was quoted as saying. "And that's not just a problem for her or even just women. It's a problem for everyone: how do you find your own path?"
The play will open within weeks of the Broadway debut of Albee's The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?.
Mel Brooks, long married to Bancroft, told Newsday that if his wife took the Occupant role, "it looks like we could be spending a lot more time in New York." Brooks, of course, is the co-author and composer of the mega-hit The Producers, who hinted that he and Thomas Meehan might turn to "Young Frankenstein" next. Bancroft, a two-time Tony winner for Two for the Seesaw and The Miracle Worker, is best known for originating the role of Mrs. Robinson in "The Graduate," which coincidentally will arrive as a Broadway stage musical in the spring. Now in its tenth year, Signature Theatre generally devotes each full season to one playwright. To celebrate its tenth anniversary, the company has commissioned one new play each from the writers honored during its first nine years. In 1993-94, Signature staged Albee's Marriage Play, Counting the Ways, Listening, Sand and Fragments, though it was Three Tall Women, staged at the Vineyard that season, that resuscitated a career that stalled badly after the Broadway flop The Man Who Had Three Arms. Albee's landmark early plays included The Zoo Story and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.
The current Signature season opened with an extended run of Sam Shepard's The Late Henry Moss and, after the Albee play, will conclude with John Guare's A Few Stout Individuals (April 23-June 2, 2002; opening TBA), another world premiere. Guare's play tells of a penniless man whose son squandered his fortune. He's offered a new fortune by a publishing company for his memoirs, but will he hang on long enough to write and remember?
Going back to its one-season-per-playwright modus operandi, the Signature Theatre Company will dedicate its 2002-03 season to Lanford Wilson.
Wilson's work began being produced in New York in 1963, at places like Caffe Cino and La MaMa, where he and Sam Shephard (a Signature playwright of several seasons back) were contemporaries. Early plays included Rimers of Eldritch and Balm in Gilead, which Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company revived to great acclaim in the early '80s. Wilson's fortunes rose with the '70s, a time which saw the success of such works as Lemon Sky, The Hot l Baltimore and the first two part of his "Talley Trilogy," 5th of July and Talley's Folly. The latter won the Pulitzer Prize.
Many of these works were presented at Circle Repertory Company, a landmark Off-Broadway troupe Wilson co-founded.
The last decade, however, has seen a slow falling off in Wilson's commercial and critical stock. The last play of his to reach Broadway was 1993's Redwood Curtain, which quickly closed to great financial loss and by some accounts helped speed the subsequent demise of Circle Rep. Many of Wilson's most recent efforts — including The Rain Dance, Book of Days and A Sense of Place, or Virgil Is Still the Frog Boy — haven't been seen in New York, debuting instead at such places as the Bay Street Theatre in Long Island and the Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea, MI.
Wilson has said Book of Days and Rain Dance were possibilities for the Signature season.
For tickets and information on shows at the Signature Theatre Company at the Peter Norton Space, 555 West 42nd St., call (212) 244-7529.
—By David Lefkowitz