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Fall Preview: Theater

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SEPTEMBER

Gore Vidal's The Best Man
In 1959, Vidal felt that the true nature of American politics was being occluded by the sunny, soft-focus antics of Frank Capra and James Stewart, so he set out to write a tough play that would, he says, "explain to the republic the kind of people who are presidential and why." The play ran more than 500 performances; Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson starred in the film as candidates vying for their party's nomination. Those roles will be played by Chris Noth and Spalding Gray, with Elizabeth Ashley, Mark Blum, Charles Durning, Christine Ebersole, Jonathan Hadary, and Michael Learned filling out the cast. Previews begin September 5 on Broadway at the Virginia Theatre.

Coriolanus/Richard II
Ralph Fiennes plays both title roles in the highly praised Almeida Theatre productions first staged by director Jonathan Kent in the splendid decrepitude of London's Gainsborough Studios. Okay, so Fort Greene's gentrification may spoil that effect, but there won't be a better chance to check out these rarely seen plays. This is the same team that brought us Diana Riggs's heavy-metal Medea and Fiennes's revved-up Hamlet. Begins September 6 at the bam Harvey Theater.

The In-Gathering
Inaugurating the newest Off Broadway house, the Duke on 42nd Street Theatre, with a limited run, this new musical about an emancipated slave who travels to New Orleans in search of his wife is directed and choreographed by Jelly's Last Jam vet Hope Clarke, with music by Daryl Waters (Bring In 'Da Noise / Bring In 'Da Funk) and lyrics by John Henry Redwood (The Old Settler). Previews begin September 19.

The Full Monty
Word of mouth is strong on this musical adaptation of the 1997 film about desperate, destitute men who have nothing to lose but their underwear. Jack O'Brien (Damn Yankees) directs. Previews begin September 25 on Broadway at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre.

Stranger
Playwright Craig Lucas (Prelude to a Kiss) and director Mark Brokaw (How I Learned to Drive) last collaborated on the 1998 cliffhanger The Dying Gaul. This season, they return with another suspenseful drama and a heavy-hitting cast. Kyra Sedgwick and David Strathairn play strangers, one recently released from prison, who meet on an airplane and, in the course of a long flight, share their darkest secrets. Previews begin September 26 Off Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre.

OCTOBER

Class Act
The sizzling-hot Manhattan Theatre Club kicks off its twenty-eighth season with a tribute to lyricist Ed Kleban (A Chorus Line). "Ed Kleban was a personal friend who died very young," says MTC artistic director Lynne Meadow. "I used to sit in his living room and he'd play all his songs for me, so this is a bit of the story of his life. We'll be presenting a number of songs the public hasn't heard before." Previews begin October 3 Off Broadway at City Center Stage II.

The Dinner Party
Neil Simon's unabashedly contrived new comedy features three men, two of their ex-wives, and a mysterious man who has locked them all in a Paris dining room together. As the advertisements are sure to mention, the Washington Post called the Kennedy Center trial run of the play "laugh-out-loud funny" and ranked it as "Simon's emotionally richest play." Previews begin October 3 on Broadway at the Music Box Theatre.

Proof
David Auburn's masterly drama comes to Broadway by way of the Manhattan Theatre Club and stars Mary-Louise Parker as a scattered young Chicago woman whose father, a preeminent mathematician, has just died, and whose ever-responsible sister wants to steal her away to the Upper East Side. When a graduate student studying her father's papers discovers a brilliant mathematical proof stashed away in his study, the daughter finds herself fighting over her father's legacy and control of her own life. Begins previews October 10 on Broadway at the Walter Kerr Theatre.

Big Potato
Arthur Laurents, author of the books for West Side Story and Gypsy, and the plays Time of the Cuckoo and Invitation to a March, and the screenplay for The Way We Were, among others, alights at the Jewish Repertory Theatre for the premiere of his dark comedy about a Queens beautician who captures a Nazi war criminal in her beauty parlor. Previews begin October 10 Off Broadway at the Duke on 42nd Street Theatre.

The Tale of the Allergist's Wife
It's not surprising that a light comedy starring television and stage veterans Linda Lavin, Tony Roberts, and Michele Lee is transferring from the Manhattan Theatre Club to Broadway. But it is surprising that this delightful play about a wealthy Jewish allergist and his neurotic wife was written by cross-dressing downtown legend Charles Busch, whose previous works include Theodora: She-Bitch of Byzantium and Vampire Lesbians of Sodom. There goes the neighborhood -- thank goodness. Begins previews October 11 on Broadway at the Barrymore Theatre.

The Rocky Horror Show
The same season that brings The Sing-A-Long Sound of Music to the Ziegfeld brings back to the stage the ultimate cult vehicle. Christopher Ashley (Jeffrey) directs a surreal cast in Frank 'N' Furter's pad. Lifelong rocker Joan Jett makes her Broadway debut opposite Rent star Daphne Rubin-Vega, stage veteran Tom Hewitt, comics Dick Cavett and Lea De Laria, and Alice Ripley of Side Show (very appropriate). Expect an eye-popping design from David Rockwell (Cirque Du Soleil Theatres). Previews begin October 20 on Broadway at the Circle in the Square Theatre.

Seussical
Barring the Broadway arrival of Harry Potter Sings!, Dr. Seuss may be the only children's brand with enough star power to battle Disney's troika of The Lion King, Aida, and Beauty and the Beast. But with high-camp appeal, a flashy ad campaign by David LaChappelle, the elastic David Shiner as the Cat in the Hat, and Dirty Blonde's adorable Kevin Chamberlin as Horton, there's no doubt this musical, by Lynn Ahrens and Steven Flaherty (Ragtime, Once on This Island), will yank in more than just the kiddies. Come November and the release of the Jim Carrey film adaptation of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Dr. Seuss will have made Gotham a Hoo-ville (or Grinches of us all). Previews begin October 15 on Broadway at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.

The Vagina Monologues
Mark your calendar, not for an opening but for Donna Hanover's long-awaited debut, after a well-publicized postponement, in Eve Ensler's series of meditations on something that apparently has more words for it than the Eskimos have for snow. The new cast takes over October 16 Off Broadway at the Westside Theatre/Downstairs.

Betrayal
Director David Leveaux (last season's powerful revival of Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing) takes on Harold Pinter's intricate tale of love, lust, and the pain of adultery. This tense 1978 drama, one of Pinter's tightest plays, moves back through time to track a wife's seven-year affair with her husband's best friend to its almost heartbreakingly naïve beginning. Previews begin October 20 on Broadway at the Roundabout's American Airlines Theatre.

Comic Potential
Manhattan Theatre Club makes its fourth journey into Alan Ayckbourn territory with this dystopian futuristic work in which actors perform alongside robotic "actoids." It stars Janie Dee, who won nearly every award in London when the play opened and whose acting was hailed in these pages by John Simon as "one of the finest performances I have ever seen." John Tillinger directs. Previews begin October 24 Off Broadway at City Center Stage I.

Alice in Bed
Ivo van Hove, who staged last season's harsh, blistering production of A Streetcar Named Desire, will direct Susan Sontag's evocative biographical work about the sister of William and Henry James. Alice James, in this play, suffers from neurasthenia; bedridden, she dreams, like that other Alice, of a Mad Hatter-style tea party, where she shares sugar cubes with Emily Dickinson and Margaret Fuller. Previews begin October 25 Off Broadway at New York Theatre Workshop.

What the Butler Saw
Sexy Chlöe Sevigny, Hillary Swank's better half in Boys Don't Cry, will play a different kind of ingenue in Joe Orton's ripping, black sex farce, directed by the New Group's Scott Elliott. Dylan Baker and Lisa Emery co-star as a shrink and his nymphomaniac wife who interview Sevigny's innocent young secretary and ask her, as it were, to please lie down on the couch (among other things). Previews begin October 31 Off Broadway at the New Group's Theater @ St. Clement's Church.

NOVEMBER

Buying Time
In the seventies, writer Michael Weller emerged as perhaps the chief documentarian of the peace-and-pot generation in heartfelt plays like Moonchildren and screenplays like Hair. But recently, Weller's output has been hit-or-miss, as he's delved into autobiography and satire. This season, he returns to realistic drama, tackling a theme -- selling out -- that's plagued his generation ever since Jerry Rubin learned the meaning of the word networking. In his new play, directed by Amy Feinberg, two partners in a law firm are torn between public-interest work and the influence of a greedy tycoon. Previews begin November 1 Off-Off Broadway at the Hypothetical Theatre.

Jane Eyre
Few shows boast a production team with this pedigree, starting with John Caird (Les Misérables, Nicholas Nickleby, both with Trevor Nunn), who adapted and staged (with Scott Schwartz) the Charlotte Brontë novel, and designer John Napier (Cats, Les Miz, Sunset Boulevard), along with costume designer Andreane Neofitou (Les Miz, Miss Saigon). In various states of production for the past three years, this musical, with a score by pop composer Paul Gordon, received very mixed reviews at the La Jolla Playhouse -- but broke box-office records. Previews begin November 7 on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.

Old Money
While Contact continues its hit run upstairs at the Beaumont, Lincoln Center Theater extends its love affair with fecund Wendy Wasserstein (The Sisters Rosensweig, An American Daughter) downstairs in the intimate Mitzi E. Newhouse. Old Money is a time-traveling tale about generations of rich folks living in an Upper East Side mansion. Mark Brokaw (How I Learned to Drive) directs, and John Cullum stars. Previews begin November 9.

The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe
Lily Tomlin returns, along with an astonishing assortment of characters led by Trudy, a homeless lady and "creative consultant to these aliens from outer space" who knows that reality is really just "a collective hunch." The solo show that makes other solo shows look like, well, solo shows, it's written and directed by Jane Wagner, Tomlin's longtime collaborator and partner. As Trudy says, "I'm glad I got delusions of grandeur. It makes me feel a lot better about myself." Previews begin November 11 on Broadway at the Booth Theatre.

The Last of the Thorntons
Oscar- and Pulitzer-winning scribe Horton Foote's new drama stars his daughter Daisy, along with Mason Adams and Estelle Parsons. Foote, who published Farewell: A Memoir of a Texas Childhood last year, returns to his home state, the source of so much of his work, to introduce Alberta Thornton, a strong woman and the last survivor of her family, who reminisces on years past and confronts her imminent death. Previews begin November 21 Off Broadway at the Signature Theatre.

The Companies
The Roundabout Theatre Company continues its season by going Off Broadway with Sean O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock, directed by John Crowley. Set during the Irish Civil War, O'Casey's 1924 drama tracks a poor family living in a Dublin tenement who are informed of an inheritance, and drop cash like Puffy before learning, tragically, that their anticipated fortune is just a pittance. Previews begin September 22 at the Gramercy Theatre.

In a departure from its unique program concept of devoting each season to a single playwright, the Signature Theatre Company launches a strong twenty-month series of new plays by its veteran playwrights-in-residence, including Lee Blessing, Edward Albee, Maria Irene Fornes, John Guare, Arthur Miller, and Sam Shepard. The season kicks off with Romulus Linney's A Lesson Before Dying, adapted from the Ernest J. Gaines novel about two young black men in forties Louisiana, beginning previews this week.

The New York Shakespeare Festival will try to work off its Wild Party hangover with the world premieres of Kit Marlowe, David Grimm's play about Christopher Marlowe, opening October 31, and, two weeks later, John Moran's Book of the Dead (Second Avenue), a multimedia musical about American spirituality.

The Classic Stage Co. welcomes back New Vaudevillian Bill Irwin, who delighted New York with his amazing physical antics in Fool Moon. He'll direct and star in Beckett's Texts for Nothing. Previews begin September 28.

Playwrights Horizons presents Theresa Rebeck's Butterfly Collection, a New England family drama starring Marian Seldes and Brian Murray, beginning September 8. And at the Atlantic Theater, Neil Pepe directs Tom Donaghy's Beginning of August, beginning September 26. At the MCC Theater, Michael Sexton, who directed Marsha Norman's neurotic Trudy Blue last year, stages Simon Block's A Place at the Table, a tale of TV and literature, beginning October 17.

Inspired by City Center's Encores! series, Alec Baldwin is kicking off City Center Voices! of the American Theater, a new program of staged readings for performers who can't carry a tune. Baldwin headlines the first of the three readings, Joseph Kesselring's Arsenic and Old Lace, on November 11.

In Brooklyn, BAM's Next Wave Festival will showcase Asian-influenced artists. Highlights include Taiwan's Cloud Gate Dance Theatre and Robert Wilson, who will be restaging Strindberg's A Dream Play with Stockholm's Stadsteater. As usual, the New Victory promises a diverse range of shows; its hot ticket should be a revival of Ping Chong's Kwaidan, a triptych of Japanese tales told with puppets, opening October 27.


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