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2011 Theater Fall Preview

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2011 Theater Fall Preview

With Labor Day, summer vacations, and weekend getaways behind us, it’s time again to tune into the city’s arts and culture vibe. The House checked out the wide variety of theater offerings for Broadway and beyond this fall and made a few selections to put on your calendar:

New Plays

This season is notable for the number of women playwrights with new plays on Broadway. One of them is 29-year-old Katori Hall, who makes her Broadway debut with The Mountaintop (from September 22 at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater). In her fictional account, which takes place in 1968, on the night before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in her own home town of Memphis, the playwright imagines a late-night encounter between King and a mysterious woman. Movie and television star Samuel L. Jackson plays the great civil rights leader and Angela Bassett the nocturnal visitor. The production is directed by Kenny Leon, who received a Tony nomination last year for directing Fences. Leon also helms the production of Stick Fly (from November 18 at the Cort Theater), which marks the Broadway debut of another African-American female playwright, Lydia R. Diamond. Stick Fly is a comedy of manners about an affluent black family spending a summer weekend at their home in Martha’s Vineyard.

Adam Rapp is well-known for not pulling his punches, so brace yourself for his latest, Dreams of Flying Dreams of Falling (starts September 13 at CSC), a surreal play that promises to “lift the veil on the lives of two wealthy American families” in Connecticut. The Atlantic Theater Company production features a dream cast which includes Christine Lahti, Cotter Smith, Katherine Waterston, and the incomparable Reed Birney.

For the past five years, New York theatergoers have seen actress Zoe Kazan give a remarkable string of performances both on and off Broadway, most recently in the revival of Angels in America. This season, the Manhattan Theater Club will premiere a new play, We Live Here (starts September 22 at New York City Center), written by the 27-year-old actress. It charts a family’s emotionally charged weekend prior to the wedding of one of the daughters. A sterling cast, which includes Amy Irving, Mark Blum, Jeremy Shamos, and Betty Gilpin, is directed by Sam Gold, whose previous acclaimed work includes Circle Mirror Transformation and Kin. Another 27-year-old actor, Jesse Eisenberg, will also make his playwriting debut this season, with Rattlestick Playwrights Theater’s production of Ascunsion (from October 12 at the Cherry Lane Theater). Eisenberg will also co-star with Justin Bartha in his play about two friends whose limits of tolerance are tested when a young Filipina woman becomes their new roommate.

Roundabout Theater Company’s Sons of the Prophet (from September 28 at the Laura Pels Theater) is the latest from Stephen Karam, whose breakthrough, Speech and Debate, debuted here in 2007. The semi-autobiographical dark comedy is about two Lebanese American gay brothers in Scranton, Pennsylvania who have to cope with their father’s sudden death, their ailing uncle, and a mysterious illness. Tony-winner Joanna Gleason plays an eccentric publisher who’s trying to get one the brothers to write a book about their family.

Playwright David Henry Hwang, best known for M. Butterfly, is back on Broadway with his latest, Chinglish (from October 11 at the Longacre Theater). Inspired by his own recent visits to China, Hwang explores Sino-American (mis)communication and misinformation in this timely comedy about a businessman from Cleveland who travels to a small provincial city in China in the hopes of reviving his family-owned signage business. Obie award-winner Leigh Silverman, who directed Hwang’s Yellow Face in 2007 Off Broadway, is the director. Gary Wilmes and Jennifer Lim head the cast, which includes several actors who perform in both English and Mandarin.

In Jordan Harrison’s Maple and Vine (from November 19 at Playwrights Horizons) a 21st-century couple grab at the opportunity to join a 1950s re-enactionist society. But opting out of modern society and living in 1955, as they discover, has its own complications. Harrison, a young playwright with a keen and playful theatrical wit, is a writer to watch. Maple and Vine, directed by Anne Kauffman, arrives in New York after a well-received premiere at the Actors Theater of Louisville 2011 Humana Festival of New American Plays.

Prolific English playwright Alan Ayckbourn will bring his own production of his 75th play, Neighborhood Watch (starts November 30 at 59E59), direct from his home base in Scarborough, North England, as part of the 59E59 Theater’s Brits Off-Broadway series. In previous years, the series has hosted some of the 72-year-old playwright’s memorable work, including Private Fears in Public Places and My Wonderful Day, typically gimlet-eyed yet compassionate comedies about human behavior. The new play, which he has described a “cautionary tale,” is a dark farce about two do-gooders who decide to take the law into their own hands—with sinister consequences.

Going Solo

For the past decade, writer performer Mike Daisey has been regaling us with monologues that weave autobiographical stories into his idiosyncratic quests for knowledge. He’s back this season with The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs (starts October 11 at the Public Theater), which addresses the religion of technology and its human cost, based in part on his investigation of Apple’s factories in China. Seventy-one-year-old John Hurt, best known for his roles in The Naked Civil Servant and The Elephant Man, will perform Krapp’s Last Tape (starts December 6 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music). This production of Samuel Beckett’s celebrated monologue about a 69-year-old man who reviews his life by replaying an autobiographical tape he made 30 previously, comes to New York from the Gate Theater in Dublin, Ireland.

Return Engagements

Before Nina Arianda made her spectacular Tony-nominated Broadway debut last season in Born Yesterday, she created a stir off Broadway playing an actress who pulls out every stop in her determination to land the lead in a new play based on a famous erotic novel. We get another opportunity to see that incandescent performance in the Broadway engagement of Walter Bobbie’s production of David Ives’s Venus in Fur (starts October 13 at Manhattan Theater Club’s Samuel Friedman Theater). This time round, Hugh Dancy will play her leading man. Another Broadway transfer this season, Other Desert Cities (starts October 12 at the Booth Theater), will afford theatergoers a second opportunity to catch Stockard Channing’s acerbic and complex performance as a staunch Reagan-era Republican in Jon Robin Baitz’s play about a family harboring a secret. Stacey Keach and Thomas Sadoski reprise their roles while Judith Light and Rachel Weisz join the cast for the Broadway transfer, which is directed once again by Joe Mantello.

Revivals

This fall brings revivals of work by Terence Rattigan and Noël Coward. From the late 1930s to the late 1950s, Rattigan, with hits like The Winslow Boy and The Deep Blue Sea, was arguably the most popular English playwright of his day, inheriting that mantle from Coward, who reigned supreme over pre-war British theater. By the mid 1960s, however, both playwrights saw their popularity dwindle, challenged by a new wave of writers, the so-called Angry Young Men. This year, which is also Rattigan’s birth centennial, the Roundabout Theater is reviving one his lesser-known works from 1963, Man and Boy (starts September 9 at American Airlines Theater). Tony-winner Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon) plays a Depression-era financier who’s not above using his own son (played by Adam Driver) as sexual bait to snare an investor who could save his tottering business. (A revival by Roundabout of John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger, the signature play that ushered a new kind of British drama in 1956, is planned for early 2012). Coward is represented this year on Broadway with the revival of his glittering 1930 success, Private Lives (starts November 6 at the Music Box Theater). Sex and the City’s Kim Catrall and Paul Gross (Slings and Arrows) play the dueling divorced couple who still find each other irresistible in the effervescent romantic comedy, directed by Richard Eyre.

The revival of James Goldman and Stephen Sondheim’s Follies (now at the Marquis Theater), a transfer from D.C.’s Kennedy Center, is already a hot ticket. No surprise considering that the score for the 1971 musical, about a reunion in a soon-to-be-demolished theater of past performers of a fictionally fabled “Weissman’s Follies,” features some of Sondheim’s most famous songs, and the cast includes Bernadette Peters, Jan Maxwell, Danny Burstein, Ron Raines, and Elaine Paige.

Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner’s On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (starts November 12 at St. James Theater) has generally been regarded as a problem musical since its debut on Broadway in 1965. This opinion may change with the “reconceived” version directed by Michael Mayer. The “revisal” of On a Clear Day enhances the score with Lane’s music from the 1970 movie adaptation (which starred Barbra Streisand) and the 1951 movie Royal Wedding, and introduces a new book by playwright Peter Parnell. Harry Connick Jr. plays a psychiatrist still in love with his deceased wife and who’s helping a patient quit smoking through hypnosis. In this version’s significant gender-bending change, the patient is now a young gay man who regresses under treatment into a past life as a 1940s jazz singer.

While musical aficionados may be welcoming the new take on On a Clear Day, fans of Porgy and Bess (starts December 17 at the Richard Rodgers Theater), led by no less a luminary than Stephen Sondheim, have expressed concerns about the reported revisions to the beloved classic by George Gershwin, DuBose and Dorothy Heyward, and Ira Gershwin. However, based on the production’s current engagement at the American Repertory Theater in Massachusetts, the buzz about The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, as it’s now titled, is positive and the controversy is unlikely to hurt its new life on Broadway. The 1935 jazz opera has been “re-imagined” by director Diane Paulus (Hair), Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and Obie-winning composer Diedre L. Murray and features a stellar cast that includes four-time Tony-winner Audra McDonald as Bess, Norm Lewis as Porgy, David Alan Grier, and Joshua Henry (a Tony nominee last season for The Scottsboro Boys).