A giant puppet cow is festooned with lights and tinsel in the ritualistic final scene of Ping Chong’s acclaimed 1981 performance piece Nuit Blanche, which has been revived through Feb. 3 at La Mama Annex in New York. Members of Chong’s Fiji Company, Louise Smith and Pablo Vela, join Chong, right, in the cast. Nuit Blanche will be followed immediately by the premiere of a new mixed media work, Nosferatu, described by Chong as “a symphony in the dark which explores the rot underneath our shimmering, fashionable ‘yuppie’ world.” The latter piece, which features music composed by Meredith Monk, is scheduled to run at La Mama Feb. 8-March 3. Chong has also been commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago to create a new work for early 1985.
Beginning Again at 60
“Theatres have a half-life of about five years,” asserts Gregory Mosher, director of Chicago’s Goodman Theatre—one of the nation’s oldest. “We didn’t want to simply keep repeating ourselves. boring ourselves to death. So two years ago, a bunch of us associated with the theatre sat around and discussed what the Goodman’s next step would be, how it should change.”
Among the alternatives that Mosher and his colleagues considered were: starting a new theatre in a different city, starting a completely new theatre in Chicago, and producing a mere two plays per season at the Goodman. But they hit on another solution to the problems they felt looming. Over the course of the last two seasons, while carrying on an ambitious producing schedule that encompassed the premieres and transfers of both Glengarry Glen Ross and Hurlyburly, Mosher, his producer Roche Schulfer and the Goodman board were hammering out a plan for B what Mosher calls a “decentralized theatre.”
Beginning next month, the Goodman will sport two geographically separate theatres and a strongly felt new philosophy that cuts across all aspects of the company, from the wording of its brochures to the length of its rehearsal periods to the nature of its affiliations with artists.
At its current facility, the Goodman will continue to produce its Mainstage Series, emphasizing well-known plays with contemporary appeal, as well as an occasional newer work. European and American classics will still find a home on the mainstage, along with musicals and residencies—at least one per season—by visiting artists and companies (the theatre has recently hosted the Negro Ensemble Company and the American Repertory Theatre). Mosher says the Mainstage Series will cease to fight against the size and formality of its facility and begin to take advantage of it. “A large cast, substantial settings, star appeal or a musical score—these larger than life characteristics will be carefully considered in future play selection tor the series,” remarks the director. “And no more billing Waiting for Godot as ‘a laugh riot.’” Currently playing is the Organic Theatre production of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, with Lonne Elder Ill’s Ceremonies in Dark Old Men to follow.
The real news will be happening on the stage of the Briar Street Theatre, currently undergoing renovation from a film-producing facility into an intimate 350-seat proscenium space. Within its walls, the New Theatre Company will function as a thoroughly separate entity, with its own goals and procedures. “We’re going to stop producing seasons and start producing plays,” insists Mosher, who will direct the three plays of the company’s first season. A company of artists has been gathered from among those who have been associated with the Goodman in the past. And most important, strong ties with particular playwrights provide the source of the company’s work, and its purpose for being. After a production of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard—a play that Mosher says is “very important to me right now”—the company will produce a new play by David Mamet entitled Joseph Dintenfass, and John Guare’s Women and Water. Each playwright will participate in the process “as much as he wants,” says Mosher. Playwrights that the company hopes to work with in future seasons include Emily Mann and Wallace Shawn, and special events such as cabaret and radio plays are in the planning stages.
In an effort to escape the institutional strictures that Mosher and his colleagues have felt in the past, several standard procedures have been modified or abolished. The rehearsal period for the New Theatre Company has been extended to at least seven weeks—or longer, if need be. “Plays have different needs,” insists Mosher. “Hamlet has different needs from Still Life, and we have to deal with that.” Also there will be no subscriptions per se. This, to some people, is the most controversial decision of all, but according to Mosher, “Subscription is death. It’s that simple.” He goes on to explain, “In the ’50s, when the whole subscription thing was in its pioneering stages, society was different. It was geared around planning ahead. This doesn’t make sense in the ’80s. Besides -how many products can you think of that are marketed today the way they were in 1961? Not coffee, not toothpaste; why theatre?”
Mosher’s alternative is threefold: tickets can be purchased singly; a limited number will be available at reduced prices at 6 p.m. on the day of performance; or memberships cans be purchased which provide one ticket for any two NTC productions—at no discount, but with the advantage of priority seating and some other related “perks.”
In spite of what Mosher feels is an enlightened and sympathetic local press, the company will be using no quotes from reviews in its sales brochures. In fact, one gets the feeling that sales brochures and press releases are considered a necessary evil at best. “We just intend to announce what we’re doing when, and then list the members of the company,” says Mosher, emphasizing that once again, the artists are the company’s raison d’être.
Both Mosher and Schulfer have adopted new titles as they embark on their new venture. Formerly artistic director and managing director, respectively, the two will now be known as director and producer. Explains Mosher, “The difference between the direction of a theatre and its artistic direction is the problem all theatres face today. We have to be directors, and trust that our sensibilities will pervade our institutions. As an ‘artistic director’ I was planning seasons and they were centering on themes. Now I’m centering my attention on artists who interest me. Where they want to go has to be their job.”
The 1984-85 season is the Goodman’s 60th. It is also, in a way, its first.
When George White was invited to direct a Chinese-language production of an O’Neill play in Beijing, he immediately chose Anna Christie. The O’Neill Theater Center president felt that, of all O’Neill’s works, it might have the most resonances for audiences in the People’s Republic. And yet, in preparing the play for the Central Academy of Dramatic Arts last fall, he felt he needed to do more than simply have it translated.
“I wanted to adapt it to the Chinese experience,” he comments, so he proceeded to move the play from its New York and Boston settings to 1930s Shanghai. “It was a time and place where people did indeed sell their daughters into prostitution.” He admits that it was a somewhat controversial choice, but one that turned out to be “very moving for the Chinese.”
With financial help from the Asian Cultural Council, White produced the play after six weeks of rehearsal (about half the duration of the usual Chinese rehearsal period), bringing with him the design team of Ming Cho Lee, Patricia Zipprodt and Ian Calderone. Speaking no Chinese, White also enlisted the services of Huang Zonjiang, a playwright who had visited the O’Neill Center in Waterford, Conn. in 1981. Audiences were enthusiastic, says White, if somewhat skeptical about a Chinese context for characters some felt were indisputably “foreign.”
Bejing will be seeing another Western play soon, if all goes according to the plans of Ying Ruocheng, artistic director of the National Peoples’ Art Theatre there. After his acclaimed 1983 production of Death of a Salesman—in which he played Willy Loman under the direction of Arthur Miller—Ying decided to take on Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus. “I hope to snatch the meaty part of Salieri for myself,” he beams.
Ying, who has worked with American drama students as part of an ongoing relationship with the University of Missouri, is as confident about the universality of the British work as he was of Salesman, although he admits that it might seem more difficult or obscure at first glance. “China is a country which has never lacked in talent. We have the Mozarts. We also have the Salieris sitting on them. But the theme of Amadeus is something that goes beyond the world of music. Salieri’s philosophy is that because he is virtuous, because he has devoted everything to God, he must therefore be excellent. Unfortunately, virtue and excellence do not always go together.”
The production is tentatively scheduled for late 1985.
For Better or Verse
“Here’s to us,” sing Olga Merediz, Karen Trott and Deborah Jean Templin, habitués of the bohemian Stray Dog Cafe in pre-revolutionary Russia. The lives and times of a collection of rebellious young Soviet poets are evoked in Elizabeth Swados’ new musical The Beautiful Lady, which had its premiere in December at New Playwrights’ Theatre in Washington, D.C., and is slated for a New York production this year. Poetry—translated by co-author Paul Schmidt—and performance art are major ingredients in the musical, which composer Swados describes as “very futurist, very Brechtian.” The production spans 10 years of Soviet history, with the October Revolution of 1917 staged within the confines of designer Lewis Folden’s cabaret setting. The “lady” of the title, incidentally, is poetry herself.
Havens for the New
In its fifth season, the Yale Repertory Theatre’s annual Winterfest of new American plays has become an anticipated tradition in New Haven. For ambitious theatregoers in search of a marathon, there are several Saturdays on which one can witness three of the four festival plays in addition to two of the various seminars being held in conjunction with the festival—a nearly 12-hour undertaking!
Alternating nights in the Yale Repertory Theatre are Between East and West by Richard Nelson, and Faulkner’s Bicycle by Heather McDonald. A block away, at the University Theatre, Keith Reddin’s Rum and Coke is switching off with Vampires in Kodachrome by Dick Beebe.
In Between East and West, a Czechoslovakian couple emigrates to America, then struggles to adapt to a new way of life. John Madden directs. Faulkner’s Bicycle, under the direction of Julian Webber, takes place late in Faulkner’s life, as his neighbors watch him idle away his time in Oxford, Miss. Rum and Coke follows a bewildered all-American Yalie named Jake to various exotic locales including Caracas, Guatamala and Grand Central Station. Staging the Reddin comedy is William Partlan. Finally, in Vampires in Kodachrome, directed by Evan Yionoulis, the year is 1945: Skirts are going up, soldier boys are coming home and with them comes a new evil…Dracula.
Winterfest seminars, held on Fridays and Saturdays throughout the run, cover such topics as “The Theatre As Creative Process,” “The Theatre As National Expression,” “The Theatrical Avant-Garde” and “From Stage to Film.” Winterfest runs through Feb. 9.
For three weeks this month, some other Connecticut audiences will have a chance to glimpse the nuts and bolts of the theatre’s creative process. From Feb. 4-24 the Hartford Stage Company will present First Drafts, a subscription series of events-in-process in which the audience becomes involved in the theatrical process from start to finish.
Associate artistic director Mary B. Robinson will direct the First Drafts resident company in a fully staged workshop production of No Mercy, a new play by Hartford’s playwright-in-residence Constance Congdon. An impressionistic post-nuclear journey from 1945 Los Alamos to the real and imaginary present, No Mercy first plays Feb. 7-10 and, after a series of post-play discussions with the audience, returns to rehearsal where it undergoes revisions. The play then returns to the stage for additional performances Feb. 21-24.
On Feb. 15 and 17, as No Mercy is on the drawing board, subscribers can visit complete rehearsals of The Hoffman Project, an ambitious performance piece based on the stories of E.T.A. Hoffman and written by Kenneth Cavander in collaboration with artistic director Mark Lamos and designer John Conklin. The Hoffman Project combines improvisation and scripted material to dramatize the mysticism and complex psychology of Hoffman’s stories, and is being developed with an eye toward possible inclusion in Hartford’s ’85-86 season.
In addition to both productions, subscribers can take behind-the-scenes tours of the Hartford facilities and visit On Stage at Noon one-act play readings by the First Drafts company.
The entire event is funded with a Special Artistic Project Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts which, says dramaturg Helen Sheehy, “makes it possible for the Stage Company artists to develop creatively without the pressures of the fully produced subscription series. It will give us a chance to explore some unconventional styles and concepts without worrying about the ‘success or failure’ syndrome.”
Doom in Buffalo
Dr. Frankenstein and his monster may have died an ignominious death on Broadway a few seasons ago, but they enjoyed new life recently at Buffalo’s Studio Arena Theatre, in an adaptation entitled The Doom of Frankenstein. As conceived by Geoffrey Sherman and Paul Wonsek (the former providing the script and direction, the latter the highly technical sets and lighting), the old story held a few new surprises. Attempting to balance adventure, mystery and even humor, Sherman refers to the script as “a theatrical Raiders of the Lost Ark, and not just a horror piece.” Wonsek’s set, composed of old washing machines, mercury vapor lamps and other meticulously recycled junk, has been fashioned to fit efficiently into three trucks; it is the company’s hope that the production will tour to other theatres around the country. Above, the mist-shrouded monster (Michael Quill) turns the tables on Dr. Frankenstein’s fiancee Y (Melissa Smith).
Greek ’n’ Roll
New York’s City Stage Company, known for its iconoclastic explorations of the world’s classics, has now added Aeschylus to its canon, in a two-part version of the Oresteia with a rock-and-roll score by Bob Jewett.
Divided up into Agamemnon and Elektra/Orestes, the story of the fall of the House of Atreus is directed by artistic director Christopher Martin. The musical element stems from his desire to make the works accessible to contemporary—particularly young—audiences. His own background as a rock guitarist drew him to that idiom, and to composer Jewett, whose goal is “to surround the audience with sound, to project them into another dimension.”
“The music really functions as a character in the drama, comments Martin. Jewett adds, “Composed of sounds and noises used to cut and to heighten tension, the music’s rhythm and high wails have a range that goes beyond the ordinary, it allows the actors to be thoroughly human.”
After discussions with Martin, Jewett enlisted the assistance of Jack Maeby, his partner in a band called The Sarcasuals. Maeby helped develop the score, playing synthesizer on the performance tapes. Jewett himself is a theatre veteran, having served as composer and musical director for last season’s acclaimed Tooth of Crime at La Mama E.T.C., as well as composing music for The Overland Rooms at the McCarter Theatre Company and for other productions.
Martin, who founded CSC 18 years ago, has brought a number of other large epic dramas to his stage, including the complete Faust of Goethe, the Oedipus trilogy, a two-part Peer Gynt and Yeats’ complete Cuchulain cycle. Agamemnon and Elektra/Orestes, in new translations by Robert Fagels, are currently running in repertory.
American theatre companies are turning up in the most exotic places these days. This year’s Hong Kong Arts Festival, currently in progress, has selected one U.S. theatre troupe—the Actors Theatre of Louisville—to perform in its Shouson Theatre. ATL is presenting Wendy Kesselman’s My Sister in This House, which premiered at its Fifth Annual Festival of New American Plays, and John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Producing director Jon Jory directs My Sister, while company member Adale O’Brien takes the helm for the Steinbeck classic.
In addition to theatre, the festival offers opera, music, dance, mime and visual arts exhibits. This year’s participating companies include the Montreal Symphony, Argentina’s Cedron Quartet, the Jing’an Shaoxing Opera Troupe of Shanghai and the Louisiana Repertory Jazz Ensemble. In addition, the acclaimed Beijing People’s Art Theatre production of Death of a Salesman, directed by Arthur Miller, is being revived.
New York’s Circle Repertory Company is planning a May visit to Japan, as the first participant in a new 10-year biennial exchange program. Established by the Japan-United States Friendship Commission and Japan’s Institute of Dramatic Arts, and administered by Theatre Communications Group, the program is designed to abet cultural exchange by arranging for Japanese productions to be presented in U.S. theatres, and vice-versa. Circle Rep will take its productions of Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love and Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? on a four-week tour of six major cities, including Tokyo, Kyoto and Kobe.
Finally, the Mark Taper Forum of Los Angeles has just unpacked its bags after two weeks “down under,” at the Festival of Sydney. This annual citywide arts extravaganza is one of the world’s largest, encompassing some 1,500 events ranging from opera to circus acts. The Taper’s contribution, from its second stage, was In the Belly of the Beast, Adrian Hall’s adaptation of the writings of Jack Abbott, with additional adaptation and direction by Robert Woodruff. This marks the first occasion that a Taper production has journeyed to a foreign festival. Only one other American company—again, the ubiquitous Actors Theatre of Louisville—has ever appeared at the Sydney celebration.
It’s the 50th anniversary of the Oregon Shakespearean Festival, and the company is celebrating with an ambitious and wide-ranging 11-play season. Starting the ball rolling will be a special gala weekend Feb. 22-24, during which the first four plays will open among a variety of other events. Bowing at the Angus Bowmer Theatre will be King Lear, Pinero’s Trelawny of the “Wells” and Moss Hart’s Light Up the Sky, while Stephen Metcalfe’s Strange Snow opens at the Black Swan. Oregon governor Vic Atiyeh will be on hand to usher in the historic season.
In an effort to acknowledge the contributions of former company members toward reaching this landmark year, the OSF board of directors has extended an invitation to all “alumni” to attend the entire season at half price. During their visit, they will be asked to sign a “Family Album,” planned as an informational archive.
Events surrounding the play openings include a reading by actress Amanda McBroom and a speech by drama critic Elliot Norton. Later in the season, OSF will again be honored when Ashland’s annual Fourth of July Parade focuses on the theme “All the World’s a Stage,” and Mrs. Angus Bowmer presides as parade marshall.
As the season progresses, Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People and Beth Henley’s Crimes of the Heart will join the Bowmer repertory, while Mark Medoff’s The Majestic Kid and Cather MacCullum’s Lizzie Bordon in the Late Afternoon sign on at the Black Swan. Finally, the 1985 summer season at the outdoor Elizabethan Stage will include The Merchant of Venice, King John and All’s Well That Ends Well. Age has most definitely not withered OSF.
Making the Rounds
For many theatres, bringing an audience in just isn’t enough. Sometimes, the mountain has to go to Mohammed in order to reach segments of the population that might otherwise miss out on theatre altogether. Currently, both the Alley Theatre of Houston and the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis are taking the show on the road.
The Alley has just reactivated an outreach program dormant since its 1976 bicentennial tour. Known as TREAT (The Traveling Repertory Ensemble of Alley Theatre), the touring company embarked on a five-month tour of Houston-area schools and community centers on Jan. 10, under the direction of John Vreeke. It is presenting an original musical called Finding Home, penned by literary manager Michael Bigelow Dixon in collaboration with Jerry Patch, and with music by composer-in-residence Jan Cole. Specially geared to young people, Finding Home—a parable about a young Texan girl in search of the perfect surf—is being made available at low cost to area organizations through May 10.
The Guthrie hit the trail on Jan. 19 for its second national tour. Its 20-member traveling troupe will log close to 6,000 miles presenting Hume Cronyn and Susan Cooper’s Foxfire, under the direction of Terry Schreiber, before it heads for home in mid-March. Visits to 23 Midwest and East Coast stops are planned, some including two- or three-day residencies complete with workshops and master classes. Designer Hal Tine is responsible for Foxfire’s rustic Appalachian homestead setting—which can be collapsed, crated and shipped by truck from Bismarck to Des Moines to Poughkeepsie.
Back in Rotation
After a one-season vacation from its rotating repertory routine, the Guthrie Theater is shifting gears. Beginning in June, Minneapolis audiences will be able to see as many as three productions out of the eight-play season within the span of a few days.
The Guthrie roster will include a world premiere, a Shakespeare play, a new American drama and the return of Guthrie veteran directors Stephen Kanee, Emily Mann and Andrei Serban. In addition, artistic director Liviu Ciulei has announced the formation of a resident acting company; he is currently holding nationwide auditions and contacting a number of artists who have been associated with the theatre in the past.
Opening the season on June 7 will be the world premiere of Barbara Field’s adaptation of Great Expectations. The Dickens classic will then be joined by Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac directed by Andrei Serban, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream under Ciulei’s direction.
The season continues with Shaw’s Candida alternating with Execution of Justice, written and directed by Emily Mann. The theatre’s annual Christmas Carol ushers in the 1985 holidays, followed by straight runs of Tom Stoppard’s On the Razzle and N. Richard Nash’s The Rainmaker.
If there seems to be an emphasis on drama of British origin, there’s purpose in it. Four of the Guthrie’s eight productions—Great Expectations, Candida, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and On the Razzle—will be the Guthrie’s contribution to the British Festival of Minnesota, which runs from August 1985 through January 1986.
If mounting a production with a cast of 300 on a small Off Broadway stage sounds ambitious, it is—even if those 300 individuals are puppets. Last month Theatre for the New City premiered The Age of Invention, Theodora Skipitares’ “environmental-puppet-history work” populated by a collection of her anthropomorphic beasts as well as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison and the bogus surgeon Dr. Michael O’Connor. With a text adapted from the original writings of the three men, the work dramatizes the myriad uses and abuses of “Yankee ingenuity.” Skipitares and her crew created all 300 puppets as well as life-like environments that included Wall Street, a Revolutionary War battlefield and an operating room in which audiences witnessed a puppet-patient undergoing surgery. Underneath it all flowed an original score by Scott Johnson and Virgil Moorefield.
Bert Lahr, known by every child and former child as the Cowardly Lion, is also known by many theatre buffs for his groundbreaking performance in the original Waiting for Godot. Lahr is now the subject of a new play by James McLure, currently premiering at the Denver Center Theatre Company. Lahr and Mercedes focuses on Lahr’s early days in vaudeville and follows his relationship with his comedy partner and wife, Mercedes del Pino. Set in a Miami rehearsal hall in 1956, it opens as Lahr rehearses his role in Godot, an undertaking considered unthinkable by many who didn’t feel the clown would be up to “serious” drama. Directed by Denver Center associate artistic director Peter Hackett, the cast includes Bill Buell as Lahr and Penelope Miller as del Pino. Sets, costumes and lighting have been designed by Pavel M. Dobrusky, who comes to Denver from the National Theatre in Prague, where he has worked as assistant designer to Josef Svoboda for eight years. Lahr and Mercedes runs in repertory with Hamlet, Ringers, The Time of Your Life and They Knew What They Wanted.
A young woman hired to tutor a college football hero ignites a campus power struggle in Dancing in the End Zone, Bill C. Davis’ newest play, which premiered several seasons ago at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami, and is currently enjoying its first commercial outing at Broadway’s Ritz Theatre, where it opened Jan. 3.
Davis came to attention for his story of a jaded priest and an idealistic seminarian, Mass Appeal, currently experiencing a second life as a film. Dancing in the End Zone features Pat Carroll, Laurence Luckinbill, Dorothy Lyman and Matt Salinger, under the direction of Melvin Bernhardt.
American gangsters have been a cinema staple ever since Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney brandished their machine guns. More recently, such films as City Heat and Cotton Club have perpetuated the image of these underworld scoundrels. Could the theatre be far behind? A world premiere musical exploring the life of Chicago mobster Al Capone takes off on March 5 at Hartford Stage Company. Sporting the unlikely title America’s Sweetheart, the play reunites lyricist Alfred Uhry and composer Robert Waldman, best known for The Robber Bridegroom. (For Sweetheart, Pacific Overtures author John Weidman was also enlisted.) At the directorial helm is Gerald Freedman, who shepherded Robber Bridegroom to Broadway in 1978, and was recently appointed artistic director of Cleveland’s Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival.
Honolulu Theatre for Youth opened its world premiere of Raven the Hungry last month in preparation for a tour around neighboring islands. The play comprises tales from Tsimshian Indian lore about Raven, the trickster god of the Pacific Northwest Indians. Written by Nick DiMartino, the production incorporates masks, ceremony and dance. It touches down at several local high schools before de. camping for an island tour in mid-February.
A fictional American rock legend holds centerstage in The Incredibly Famous Willy Rivers, Stephen Metcalfe’s new play currently on view at New York’s WPA Theatre. The high cost of fame and the wages of life in the fast lane are the latest concerns of the playwright who has previously brought us Vikings, Strange Snow and Half a Lifetime—all of which premiered at Manhattan Theatre Club. Under the direction of WPA veteran Stephen Zuckerman, the cast features John Bedford-Lloyd, Elizabeth Berridge, Lois Chiles and Jay O. Sanders.
Marsha Norman’s Traveler in the Dark is currently enjoying its West Coast premiere at the Mark Taper Forum in L.A., under the direction of that theatre’s artistic director Gordon Davidson. The play, which has been substantially revised since it premiered last season at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, involves a brilliant surgeon whose skills in the operating room do little to help him cope with personal tragedy. Len Cariou plays the surgeon, and other cast members include Claude Akins, Scott Grimes and Deborah May. Traveler in the Dark reunites Davidson and Norman, who last worked together on Getting Out in 1978. Performances run through March 10.
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