It's not unusual to find Joan Rivers spending February in sunny Los Angeles, but this year, Rivers won't be covering the red carpet for an awards show, but rather pretending to be at one as part of her autobiographical new play Joan Rivers: A Work in Progress by a Life in Progress, which begins a two-month run at the Geffen Theatre on February 5. "The subject of the work is my life in show business, but I think my life has a lot to say to anyone," says Rivers, who has hosted her own talk show, received a Tony Award nomination for Sally Marr...and her escorts, and directed hit films, as well as lived through the suicide of her husband, Edgar Rosenberg. "Just my being here is proof that I've survived. Everyone in life goes through a lot of ups and downs. It's very universal."
No doubt there will be laughs aplenty -- Rivers even worked on some of the show's monologues with her friend, the hilarious Charles Busch -- but she also has some serious topics on her mind. "I have a great deal to say about how we deal with age in this country," says Rivers. "In England, they love you more as you get older; you practically become a national treasure. Here, once you're over, they want you to get out of the business."
While Rivers could easily have done a solo show, this play has three other characters -- an incompetent makeup artist (played by Emily Kosloski), a studio executive (played by Tara Joyce), and an associate producer who got his job through nepotism (played by Adam Kulbersh). "They're all based on compilations of people I know, but I don't think any of the real-life people will recognize themselves," she says. "It's really been wonderful working with this group of actors; they're terrific. But they're lucky too. They're all good parts, and because I'm an actress, I never write a part for another person without making sure they get one great aria."
Rivers already has plans to bring the show to the Edinburgh Fringe in August and to London, where she works often, in October. But she freely admits her eyes are set on the Big Apple. "I'm a New York kid, so what would be better than performing in your hometown?" she says. "It would be my fourth foray on Broadway if I got there, and I would love that to happen."
To find Kathleen Chalfant working on a New York stage is hardly surprising; to find her doing two shows at once is a bit perplexing. But the ever-busy actress is gearing up for double duty, co-starring in Playwrights Horizons' production of Sarah Ruhl's Dead Man's Cell Phone, starting on February 8, and then using her Mondays for a three-month run of Eileen Atkins' Vita & Virginia, opposite old pal Patricia Elliott at the Zipper, beginning February 11.
The pair first did the show at a benefit reading a couple of years ago -- not to mention, Chalfant had previously played Woolf in her own solo show some years back -- and she's thrilled to be able to revisit the legendary author. "It's wonderful to play these smart and, in the deepest sense of the word, glamorous women," she says. "They weren't particularly compatible and they were each committed to their husbands, but they fell in love with each other in their own odd way. But what's so great about the play is that it's not about a scandal, but about a remarkable friendship. Plus, it paints this whole world of the Bloomsbury generation between the world wars, a group of people who were unconventional in a way that we can't even imagine today. They truly paid no attention to categories."
In Dead Man's Cell Phone, she plays the mother of the deceased (played by Bill Camp), and Chalfant admits her character won't win any Mother of the Year awards. "She's this slightly decaying, terribly elegant Upper East Side lady -- the type who wears fur indoors -- who has a few problems with relationships. For example, she loves the dead son, but as for the living one (played by David Aaron Baker), she doesn't so much dislike him as that he just doesn't take up much of her psychic space." One of her main attractions to the play is that she's old friends with many of her castmates -- most notably, leading lady Mary Louise-Parker and director Anne Bogart, who offered her the part without an audition, and which Chalfant accepted without even reading the script. "I didn't have to. Sarah is one of my favorite writers, and I knew her work because my daughter Andromache Chalfant designed two of her early plays," she notes. "I really love the kind of spare, sly humor you find in Sarah's work; I think someone called them fairy tales with a steel spine."
Chalfant's upcoming plate is beyond overflowing. Her next assignment is Alex Dinelaris' The Red Dog Howls, which will play L.A.'s El Portal Theater in May, in which she'll play a 96-year-old Armenian woman. After that, possibilities -- some more definite than others -- include Ranevskaya in a Classic Stage Company production of The Cherry Orchard; the role of Agnes in an Arena Stage production of A Delicate Balance with Jayne Houdyshell and Ellen McLaughlin, directed by Garry Hynes; a new play by Tony Kushner at the Guthrie; and even a role in a musical version of Edna Ferber's Giant, co-written by Chalfant's dear friend Sybille Pearson and Michael John LaChiusa. "It's basically an opera, so if that happens, I'm really going to have to practice my singing," she laughs.
PLAYING IT STRAIGHT
Strioli, who was raised in the Bronx and Connecticut in an Italian family, says sex is the reason he's that kind of guy. "I made the mistake as a young man who wanted to get laid during the height of the women's movement in reading Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan and really believing that women wanted us to be sensitive and didn't care if we knew how to use power tools. By the time I realized -- or they realized -- they didn't really want that, it was too late."
Strioli road-tested the show in Chicago, his former hometown, and his now-native Los Angeles for eight years, but he is really finding New York audiences to be unusually appreciative. "It didn't occur to me or my wife or the producers that the characters in this show really are New York-based, so here we have much more of audiences recognizing themselves or someone they know; what we call the nudge factor," he says. "And the gay audiences have been great; they've been laughing so hard. There's one segment in the show which is a mock game show called "It's All Geek to Me," and we bring up two guys. If one is gay and one is straight, it really becomes this hysterical clash of the titans."
Tony Award winner Mandy Patinkin will play L.A.'s Kodak Theatre on February 2. Richard Foreman and Eric Bogosian will have a discussion at the Housing Works Bookshop on February 4. Dee Dee Bridgewater will join Marvin Hamlisch and the New York Pops at Carnegie Hall on February 8. On February 9, Ashley Brown will head down Florida way to appear with the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra and Children's Chorus; Rachel York will be the special guest performer at the 2008 San Francisco Equality Awards; and Broadway stars David Burnham and Annie Golden will be the special guests at Saturday Night Underground at NYC's Laurie Beechman Theatre.
Elaine Stritch, Edward Albee, Bill Irwin, Marian Seldes, and Tammy Grimes will appear at Love 'N' Courage, Theatre for the New City's annual benefit at the National Arts Club on February 10. Jenifer Lewis, Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr., CCH Pounder and Loretta Devine will be just some of the participating talent at the Let Your Spirit Live benefit at the Pasadena Playhouse on February 11, while that same night Lauren Ambrose, Michael Cerveris, Ricki Lake, Martha Plimpton, and Paul Rudd will be among the performers at WET's annual LOVE benefit at NYC's Angel Orensanz Foundation. Kristen Schaal, Jared Gertner and Lance Rubin will join composer Eli Bolin to sing songs from his new album Lemonade at Ars Nova on February 12.
Looking ahead, Altar Boyz star Chad Doreck will debut songs from his upcoming CD Awake and Sing at the Cutting Room on February 21. Comedy superstar Will Ferrell will bring his Funny or Die Comedy Tour to Radio City Music Hall on February 24. Finally, the Jewish Museum will present a sneak preview of Joshua Salzman and Ryan Cunningham's new musical Queen Esther on February 25.