New York's Signature Theatre Company, which dedicates itself to one playwright's oeuvre each season, will feature experimental dramatist Maria Irene Fornes in the 1999-2000 season. Helping make that happen is philanthropist Peter Norton and his donation of $600,000 -- nearly half the season's $1.4 million budget.
As reported by the New York Times and confirmed by a spokesperson at the Publicity Office, art collector Norton has been a Signature fan for several seasons. When asked at a Signature fund-raiser to help the theatre, he countered artistic director James Houghton's request for "a modest contribution" by volunteering "an immodest contribution" -- that is, enough to get his name on the theatre. As such, on Sept. 13, the Signature's home will be officially named "the Signature Theatre Company at the Peter Norton Space." Norton told the Times, "If an ordinary small theatre company is a sundial, this is a Swiss watch."
Especially noteworthy is the company's quick growth, from an East Village presence in 1991 (with a $35,000 annual budget) to their move two seasons ago to 555 West 42nd Street. Still, there are growing pains. This past season, playwright John Guare initially announced that Signature would conclude its season dedicated to him by performing, in repertory, the three plays of his "Nantucket" series, plus his new work, The Book of Judith. The project, requiring a 30-member cast, became too costly, and the company instead staged Guare's Lake Hollywood.
The current Signature season will begin with a David Esbjornson (former artistic director of CSC) helmed evening of two one-act plays, Mud and Drowning, Sept. 14-Oct. 10.
A quintessential Fornes' play, Mud, was written in 1983 and is one of the playwright's many explorations into humanity's darker side. In it, Mae seeks to escape the basic life she has been living with Lloyd through education. She befriends Henry, who offers to teach her, but he has a stroke and is forced to remain in the care of Mae and Lloyd. Neither Henry or Lloyd wish for Mae to leave them, with one of the characters brutally killing Mae before she attains the freedom for which she has fought. Mud won an OBIE Award for "Best New Play" in 1984. 1986's Drowning an investigation into desire and its effect on the soul, is adapted from a Chekhov story, and features main characters which are potatoes.
The New York premiere of Enter the Night will take the second spot in the season, Nov. 23-Dec. 19. In Night, the relationship of three friends illustrates the layers of illusion we build in our minds to fulfill others' expectations and our expectations of ourselves. The play premiered at Seattle's New City Theatre in 1993. A director for the production is TBA.
The final play of the Fornes season will be the world premiere of a new play, currently without a title. The work will be based on the alleged suicide of Freddy Urco, a ballet dancer, and explores the late 60's downtown arts scene in New York City. The playwright herself will direct.
Other Fornes plays include Fefu And Her Friends, Promenade, The Summer in Gossenssass,A Vietnamese Wedding, Abingdon Square, Dr. Kheal, Successful Life of 3, The Danube, Terra Incognita and The Conduct of Life. In her career, over 30 years long, Fornes has been the recipient of eight OBIE Awards -- including the prestigious lifetime achievement award.
Philanthropist Norton said in a statement, "We're very proud to know that an artist such as Maria Irene Fornes will find a home for a season in the Peter Norton Space." For memberships and information on the Signature Theatre season call (212) 244-PLAY.
-- By David Lefkowitz & Sean McGrath