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This article was published in U.S. 1
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Princeton Drama Preview, 1998
The fall is here and once again mailboxes are filling
up with the glossy subscription brochures sent out by our region’s
professional theaters. Will you be influenced by the pitch and fervor
of their ballyhoo, impressed by their computer-enhanced art, and
by their promises of a season to top all seasons? Like yesterday’s
carnival barkers, the marketing personnel hope to entice you to
by emphasizing the rewards that come to those who commit to a full
How can you resist the offer of four, five, six, or seven shows that
have been carefully chosen to offer a balanced dose of laughter,
music, and tragedy? In typical fashion, you can expect the classics
of Sophocles, Shakespeare, Moliere, and Chekhov to share the season
with American staples from Tennessee Williams and Sam Shepherd, as
well as lighter fare from the canon of Noel Coward and Brendan Behan.
There are new plays promised from A.R. Gurney and Arthur Laurents,
while such stars as Claire Bloom, Betty Buckley, Anne Meara, Pat
and Zoe Wanamaker will tread the boards.
Of course you may be one of those ardently discriminating
purchasers who insist on picking and choosing shows on an individual
basis. You have to be willing to pay a premium for the privilege,
as well as settling for less than prime seat locations. Subscribers
still get the best deal. Along with flexibility and side benefits,
some subscriptions offer a full season of theater for the price of
one pair of tickets on Broadway.
Once again the area’s resident companies are at the starting gate
with their roster of world premieres, classic revivals, popular hits,
and a sprinkling of special attractions. Notwithstanding the state’s
proximity to New York — still the turbulent epicenter of the
cosmos — New Jersey’s professional theaters have become, with
the administrative support of the New Jersey Theater Group (a
alliance of 20 professional, not-for-profit theaters), a progressive
theater arts community.
As an active, demonstrative artistic collective for almost two
NJTG continues to do an impressive job fostering growth and attendance
by publishing its own brochures and news and offering a mix-and-match
sampler series, a subscription good at a choice of different theaters.
Despite reductions in state and national arts funding, the arts
still gets out. For a quick or last minute reminder of what’s playing
where, the cost, and on how to get there, visit their website at
In another progressive and welcome move, McCarter Theater this year
institutes a new, model young-audience-building program: $10 for any
play at any time to those under 25 years of age. Replacing the
student prices, this program allows young adults to forget about
IDs and graduation dates. After all, the play’s the thing.
`I didn’t plan to do a full season
history plays. It just happened that way. But I think it’s a good
way to end the decade," says Crossroads’ artistic director Ricardo
Khan about the upcoming season, an almost unintentional (he says)
tribute to the rich and turbulent African-American past. Superstar
Muhammad Ali, the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, the African slave
trade, the birth of the blues, and an 1880s "all-colored"
town in Indiana are all subjects addressed in this, Crossroads’ 26th
The turbulent past can also seem as close as yesterday to Khan, who
unwittingly became a key player in a history-making cultural clash.
This happened as Pulitzer Prize-winning black playwright August
in his 1996 keynote address to the Theater Communications Group, of
which Khan was then president, delivered a powerful jeremiad
— and demanding — desperately needed funding for
produced theater in America. The speech set off a nationwide debate
on race and theater.
But Khan, as director of the nation’s preeminent black theater,
rejoiced when Wilson, after years of submitting all his new plays
to mainstream theaters where diversification was being rewarded with
big grants, finally brought a new (old) work to this major
institution. In the spring of 1997, a revised version of Wilson’s
early play, "Jitney," became the first Wilson work to be
by Crossroads before a proposed New York premiere which, ironically,
Another positive result of Wilson’s call, says Khan, is the formation
of the African Grove Institute, a service and trade organization based
at Dartmouth College in Hanover, Massachusetts. Led by Victor Leo
Walker III of Dartmouth, August Wilson serves as chairman of the
and Keryl McCord, Crossroads’ managing director, serves as
for programing. The new institute bears the name of the nation’s first
African-American Theater, based in Greenwich Village in the late
where African-American actors performed the plays of Shakespeare.
Now what would Wilson, who disapproves casting against race, say to
those actors of yesteryear? "Let’s not point fingers," says
Khan, adding, "let’s just have fun." That sounds good to me.
Khan says that the plays for this season are most notable for being
the work of established writers. Audiences who remember the dramatic
excitement stirred up in Pearl Cleage’s "Flyin’ West," are
looking forward to Cleage’s "Blues for an Alabama Sky," a
play set at the end of the Harlem Renaissance and staged by
director Walter Dallas.
It’s from Blues to Blues when "It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues"
follows on the big stage. This blues musical, Khan says "traces
the cultural journey from the African slaves’ arrival in the United
States to the Rhythm and Blues sound we claim today." Khan says
that it hasn’t been confirmed yet whether audiences will get to see
playwright Geoffrey Ewing as "Ali" (the role he originated),
the biographical one-man tribute to Muhammad Ali. Let’s hope that
whoever stars as the legendary fighter packs a wallop.
Following the Genesis Festival of New Plays, Khan will close the
with "Lost Creek Township," a play by Charlotte A. Gibson
that deals with a town that manages, against the face of adversity,
to develop a sense of community, loyalty, pride, and hope for a better
day. Khan is obviously pleased that Gibson’s play, the hit of last
seasons’ Genesis festival of staged readings, closes the season with
a message he says reflects what Crossroads wants to accomplish: to
"nurture a sense of community, friendship, and family."
Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues , November 17 to January 3. Ali,
January 28 to March 7. Genesis Festival, March 10 to 22. Lost
Creek Township, April 1 to May 16.
David Saint, the new artistic director of the George
Street Playhouse says, "my stomach feels a little queasy."
Hardly surprising, I respond during our phone conversation. This is
Saint’s first season at the Playhouse, which is currently embarking
on its 25th anniversary season. Perhaps that is why Saint, who was
preparing for the first rehearsals for "After-Play," says
"it feels like the first day of school." And that is why he
tells me he has made sure he will be surrounded with "old
"The older she gets, the more open she gets," says Saint
to his friend and mentor Anne Meara, currently slated to star in her
own play "After-Play," a comedy set in a trendy Manhattan
restaurant where two couples are dining after the theater.
the lighting designer Joe Saint (the director’s brother) will probably
do his best to make everyone looker younger than their years.
But getting older and becoming more open are qualities Saint
likes about Meara, as well as two of the other writers coming to
Street — Arthur Laurents and A.R. ("Pete") Gurney.
men later in their careers are suddenly so prolific," says Saint
who saw another of Gurney’s new plays, "The Far East,"
this summer at Williamstown. "Let’s do one of mine," Gurney
said to Saint, who had recently been named to his post at George
Playhouse and had directed the national tour of Gurney’s "The
The world premiere of Gurney’s pair of one-act thrillers "Darlene
and the Guest Lecturer," will be staged by "Mere Mortals"
director John Rando; it stars Nancy Opel, who appeared in "Mere
Mortals." The first play is about a mysterious woman who puts
a strain on a suburban couple’s marriage; the second is about a woman
who takes "diabolical steps" to keep a financially strapped
regional theater from going under.
The holiday season offering is Daniel Sullivan’s "Inspecting
a zany comedy that crosses "The Inspector General," with
Christmas Carol." Saint is still not sure whether he will be
Sullivan’s play, a Seattle Repertory Company project created by Saint
and ex-Seattle artistic director Sullivan during their residency days
"It’s a small world," says Saint, noting that Sullivan will
be directing the Gurney play at Lincoln Center, and that Helen
with whom Saint did a scene from "The Sea Gull," for an Uta
Hagen acting class, is featured in "After-Play."
So that brings us up to the next play "The Sea Gull," about
an aging actress trying to sustain her glory, her glamour, and her
youth. Although Saint admits it is "my favorite Chekhov play,"
it will be staged by Mark Nelson (the Princeton graduate of
at the Lapin Agile" and "June Moon," seen at McCarter
and Off-Broadway last season.)
On the 50th anniversary of the blacklisting of the Hollywood 10,
Arthur Laurents returns to Cold War politics with "Jolson Sings
Again." Taken from a famous news headline — JOLSON SINGS AGAIN
— that appeared the day after the actor Larry Parks (who played
Jolson in the "The Jolson Story") named names before the House
Un-American Activities Committee. As the final offering of the season,
Saint may be hosting his former teacher, Uta Hagen, if she brings
her current New York play, "Collected Stories," to George
Street. If this does not pan out, the theater will present Paula
recent off-Broadway hit, "How I Learned to Drive."
Every project won’t be on Saint’s shoulders as George Street’s
artistic director Wendy Liscow is preparing to unveil "Next
a series of new plays that will inaugurate the theater’s newly created
second stage, that it calls "George 99." Featuring
seating, the space is located just off the main lobby. Ted Sod will
be in charge of a solo-performance festival called "The Diva
Guest Lecturer , October 24 to November 22. Inspecting Carol,
November 28 to December 27. The Sea Gull, January 16 to February
21. Jolson Sings Again, February 27 to March 28. Collected
Stories or How I Learned to Drive, April 3 to May 2.
There was something about preparing for her son’s bar
mitzvah last year that led McCarter’s artistic director, Emily Mann,
to read the work of Isaac Bashevis Singer. In particular, it was his
novel "Meshugah," about emigres living in the wake of the
Holocaust, that served as the inspiration for her new play. A little
more than a year since its first readings at McCarter, and a lean
10-day workshop production this past summer at the Sundance Theater
Lab, Mann’s "Meshugah" will have its world premiere this fall.
Sophocles’ "Electra," an import from London’s innovative
Warehouse (their lauded production of "Cabaret" continues
as Broadway’s hottest ticket), is busy avenging her father’s murder
as we speak. Zoe Wanamaker is recreating her Olivier award-winning
performance in the title role. The David Leveaux production, featuring
a new adaptation by Frank McGuinness, has continued to evolve and
there are hopes for a Broadway move.
Nilo Cruz’s "Two Sisters and a Piano" has long been a favorite
with the artistic staff, according to Mara Isaacs, McCarter’s resident
producer. First heard as part of an evening of short radio plays,
"Two Sisters and a Piano," which is set in Cuba and is about
two women living under house arrest, has been expanded to a
play. It will also be coming to McCarter following its two and
week Sundance workshop, under the direction of Brian Kulick, a
director at the Public Theater in New York.
Belgian director Andre Ernotte gets another go-round with Moliere
(he directed a successful "The Misanthrope" in 1996). His
choice is the biting satire (aren’t they all?) "The School for
That Marivaux director Stephen Wadsworth has also proved he has a
way with Noel Coward (he directed "Private Lives" at
This time it’s the witty and sophisticated (aren’t they all?)
for Living," a collaboration with Seattle Repertory.
20 to November 8. A Christmas Carol, December 6 to 27. Two
Sisters and a Piano , February 16 to March 7. The School for
Wives, March 23 to April 11. Design for Living, May 4 to
973-593-0189; E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; website
Call or write for the 1998-’99 calendar and for the three-theater
sampler order form.
As we speak, those strippers with "a gimmick"
are bumping and grinding their way through the 40th anniversary
of "Gypsy" at Paper Mill Playhouse. Betty Buckley stars as
Mama Rose under the direction of Mark Waldrop ("When Pigs
in the show that runs through October 25. Is there another side to
"Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"? We will find out when Richard
in the title role(s), is loose in London after dark in a new musical
version by Phil Hall (music) and David Levy and Leslie Eberhard
November 4 to December 13.
Opening the new year is an original Jimmy Webb musical revue, "Up,
Up and Away," conceived and directed by Robert Johanson, January
6 to February 7. Spurred by the warm response to his adaptations of
"Jane Eyre" and "Great Expectations," Johanson has
adapted another Bronte novel, "Wuthering Heights," possibly
the greatest of them all, playing February 24 to April 3.
"Crazy for You" has replaced the previously announced revival
of Jerry Herman’s "La Cage Aux Folles," April 14 to June 6.
The Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice collaboration, "Joseph and
the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," closes the Paper Mill season,
beginning June 16.
— Simon Saltzman
I Remember Mama, September 25 to October 11. Manly Men,
October 16 to November 1. Murder at the Vicarage, November 20
to December 6. Christmas Presents, December 18 to 19. Of Mice and
Men , January 22 to February 7. Sherry!, February 12 to 28.
Laughter on the 23rd Floor, March 12 to 28. Criminal
April 9 to 25. Man of La Mancha, May 14 to 30.
Killing of Michael Malloy , October 13 to November 1. She Loves
Me, December 1 to 20. The Cherry Orchard, February 9 to 28.
A Sunbeam, March 30 to April 18. Brigadoon, May 18 to
Music Man , October 1 to 18. Tommy, October 22 to November
1. Crazy for You, November 5 to 22. She Loves Me, November
27 to December 6.
Me a Tenor , October 2 to 10. Lost in Yonkers, October 17
to 25. Short Shorts I, November 7 & 8. Oliver, November
27 to December 6.
609-392-5589. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, October 2 to 18.
Christmas Stories , December 18 to January 3. Festival of
Irish Theater, February 19 to March 21. I Am a Camera, April
29 to May 16.
University, Madison, 973-408-5600. King Lear, to October 4.
Sweet Bird of Youth, November 3 to 22. A Child’s Christmas
in Wales , December 8 to 27.
609-466-2766. Smoke on the Mountain, September 18 to October
31. Sylvia, November 6 to December 12.
Much Ado About Nothing, Saturday and Sunday, October 10 and
11. A week of free workshops for children and adults lead up to the
609-258-4950. I Hate Hamlet, September 24 to October 3. Arms
and the Man , October 15-24. Tartuffe, November 12-21.
December 3-12. Moustrap, February 11-20.
Double Bill , March 25 to April 3. Arcadia, April 15 to 24.
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