At the turn of the century, Off-Broadway's Signature Theatre Company looks back on the playwrights who have influenced the last fifty years of theatre (as well as filling their past nine seasons), beginning with Romulus Linney, Horton Foote and a quadruple threat from Ntozake Shange, Kia Corthron, Suzan-Lori Parks and Regina Taylor. The first three works of the company's all-premiere celebration will be Linney's adaptation of A Lesson Before Dying, Foote's The Last of the Thorntons and Urban Zulu Mambo from the four prominent African American women.
Starting in September, Lesson Before Dying, from the best-selling novel by Ernest J. Gaines, looks at the intense friendship struck between two black men in 1940's small town Louisiana -- one a convict, sentenced to die and the other, a schoolteacher, who has already given up. Kent Thompson directs this New York premiere originally commissioned and performed by the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. Featured in the production will be Isiah Whitlock (The Iceman Cometh), Beatrice Winde, Jamahl Marsh and Aaron Harpold. A Lesson Before Dying runs Sept. 5-Oct. 15 with an opening Sept. 17.
Academy Award winner Estelle Parsons and Obie and Drama Desk Award winner Hallie Foote star in the world premiere of Horton Foote's The Last of the Thorntons, beginning in November. Signature's founding artistic director James Houghton directs this Harrison, Texas, tale of the last of powerful clan dying off with only her memory of what was. The Last of the Thorntons runs Nov. 21-Dec. 31 with an opening on Dec. 3.
Signature Playwright-in-Residence Adrienne Kennedy will be honored in February with the New York premiere of Urban Zulu Mambo, directed by Henry Godinez, helmer of the original Goodman Theatre production of Feb. 2000. Taylor performs the one woman show, which includes the four short pieces, Safe Box by Corthron, Talking to Jupiter by Parks, Evertime [sic] My Lil World Seems Blue, I Just Haveta Look at You and Learn Eye-Hand Coordination, a selection from Shange's novel "Liliane" and Urban Zulu Mambo by Taylor.
A new work from Lee Blessing will end the first half of the Celebration in Spring 2001. The series continues, however, through 2001-2002 with new plays from Edward Albee, Maria Irene Fornes, John Guare, Arthur Miller and Sam Shepard. The Signature Theatre Company is located at 555 W. 42nd Street. For information, call (212) 244-7529, or consult the theatre's website at www.signaturetheatre.org.