"As I wrote the various characters in the play, it actually woke up the appeal of it for me," says Greenberg. "I have a certain critical bent to my personality where if I know people love something, I tend not to. But I think I saw the point that they had a quality of refreshment for those who don't like the bleakness of winter -- which I do -- and transformed them into a different mood."
The play's central conflict, however, is not as much about art as money. 94-year-old Maxene (played by Cynthia Harris) has tons of it; her grandson Seth (Reg Rogers) wants it. Seth was not written expressly -- at least consciously -- for Rogers, who has starred in his Off-Broadway shows Hurrah at Last! and The Dazzle, says Greenberg, adding the actor is nonetheless the perfect choice. "I do think that after the fact, I realized I had written it for him. Now, I don't even have the ability to imagine any other voice in this part. He gets me and knows how to play my work like no one else."
As for Maxene: "I've never written a 94-year-old woman before, but I kept thinking about Kitty Carlisle Hart whenever I needed inspiration," he says. "For the play, I wanted someone who would be unchangeable and unstoppable, who is dominating and domineering and simply defies age. That's what most confounds Seth about her. And I didn't make it an easy role just because I knew an older woman would play it. She's sharp as a tack and she has a lot of lines -- even a lot of parentheses."
Bobbitt is not doing this behind the composer's back. Schwartz has attended previous workshops of the piece, and given notes that were then dutifully incorporated into the finished product. "He's been extremely supportive," says Bobbitt. "We've been friends for years, and it's been great to get to know Stephen a little bit more through working on the show."
While the majority of the tunes incorporated into the production are recognizable hits from Schwartz's extensive musical theater oeuvre, Bobbitt and arranger John L. Cornelius III have also included some lesser-known songs, such as "Cold Enough to Snow," a collaboration with Alan Menken from the film Life With Mikey, and "Crowded Island" from one of Schwartz's songbooks. As far as the choreography goes, Bobbitt promises everything from waltz, to tango, to funk, to tap. "Stephen's songs have an accessible groove to them," he states. "And John also loves working with grooves. We've got nine talented young performers, and I'm working everything they know into the show -- and everything I know!"
While there are no definitive plans for future engagements, Bobbitt remains hopeful: "Stephen told me, 'Let's see what you've got at MetroStage and then we'll talk.' I sort of saw a twinkle in his eye when he said it, so I think he might be up for it."
Picture a beautiful town called Mira Flores, almost engulfed in the thick green landscape of Puerto Rico. Jose Rivera's latest work Boleros for the Disenchanted, which starts previews on April 25 at the Yale Repertory Theater, opens in that picturesque locale, as young Flora discovers her fiancé Manuelo has been cheating on her. From there, Rivera winds a path all the way to Daleville, Alabama with Flora and her long-time husband Eusebio.
"The idea of Boleros is to examine a long-term relationship and how the love you feel for somebody is severely tested when life throws obstacles and tragedies in your way," says the playwright. "I literally thought about this play for 10 years, wondered about it, and daydreamed about it -- but I didn't write a word until last year. Almost all of my work is inspired by something deeply personal, coupled with the larger social and political forces around me. Writing about Puerto Rico was liberating because I was born in Puerto Rico but I left the island when I was four years old."
Henry Godinez -- who will direct Boleros -- has played the role of actor and director in several of Rivera's pieces, and the two share a definite affinity. "It's been really fruitful working with Henry," says Rivera. "He is extremely collaborative and open, and he really wants to serve this play."
In updating and adapting her favorite play, Anton Chekhov's The Seagull, into the 21st-century A Seagull in the Hamptons, bowing on May 2 at Princeton, New Jersey's McCarter Theater, writer-director Emily Mann took what some might consider a fairly radical approach. "I tried to write this as a new play that Chekhov would pen if he was alive now and writing in America." she says. "I wanted to throw away any pre-conceived idea of how a scene ought to be written and really concentrate on the intention."
Mann says the fact the play is set in the world of the theater was a big help. "The characters in this play live in every age and not only do I know all of them, they're all me in some way," she notes."Initially, I found the hardest character to write was Trigorin, who's now called Philip, until I realized that I don't know a single writer, including myself, who isn't insecure and can do awful things because of that. But in the end, I think all the characters are really doing their best, even if they end up hurting themselves and each other."
Mann says she has often been disappointed by other productions of The Seagull, and hopes her version may overcome some of the issues that have plagued them. "By setting it now, it's easier for all the actors to be on the same page," she says. "By not having to worry about being 'in period' or part of the Russian culture, the actors are no longer twice removed from their characters."
Those actors include Maria Tucci, David Andrew Macdonald, Brian Murray, Larry Pine, Stark Sands, and Morena Baccarin. "I didn't specifically write the play with anyone in mind; I've done that in the past and then a movie comes up and then the person can't do it," she says. "Some of these actors I'd never even heard of and just found in auditions, and some are old friends. In fact, I ran into Maria one day on the street, and she was telling me about some fancy party she had been at with her husband, [writer and editor] Robert Gottlieb, and all of sudden, I thought 'there's my Irina.' And of course, she's taking to it like a duck to water."