John Tillinger will be directing some pretty classy traffic from House to Garden and back again when these two dueling Alan Ayckbourn comedies start twirling May 21 on both of Manhattan Theater Club's stages at City Center. The author wrote them to be performed on two stages, simultaneously, by the same cast of 16. If one play gets ahead of the other, actors will have to improvise (say, pick up a phone and fake conversation) until they are back in perfect sync. London and Chicago have already seen this giddy little juggling act and now it is New York's turn.
Two team players who still stand out in a crowd--Veanne Cox (Company, The Dinner Party) and Margaret Colin (Speaking in Tongues, New England)--are the ginger and spice of the cast, which includes worthies like Nick Woodeson, Michael Countryman, Carson Elrod, Daniel Gerroll, Patricia Connolly, Ellen Parker, and John Corliss. Also featured are Olga Sosnovska, James Stephens, Sharon Washington, Laura Marie Duncan, and Bryce Dallas Howard. Two more roles have yet to be cast.
There's a lot of coupling going on in this pair of frenetic farces, both of which take place during a typically rainy day in England. In House, the marriage of a philandering industrialist who's in line to become a Member of Parliament unravels; in Garden, we see that the union of their next door neighbors is in no better shape. Add to the mix a slightly tanked French film star plus some bumbling caterers and voila!--instant chaos.
NORMAN, IS THAT YOU?
Spaking further of the prolific and highly playful Mr. Ayckbourn: A good quarter-century ago, he came up with a twirling trio of interrelated plays (Table Manners, Living Together, and Round and Round the Garden) that played 225 performances on Broadway under the umbrella title The Norman Conquests. The sparkling cast consisted of Richard Benjamin, Paula Prentiss, Ken Howard, Estelle Parsons, Barry Nelson, and Carole Shelley.
Well, Norman is coming again, seeing and conquering. A first-rate if lowercase little theatrical company called the smatter theater ensemble has chosen to present the first complete New York revival of this comic trilogy, set to open April 4 at the Phil Bosakowski Theater (located two flights up from Primary Stages on West 45th Street). It will be possible to catch all three plays running end to end in Saturday marathons in April.
And what is the dear boy up to now, you might wonder? Actually, more of the same. When Ayckbourn opened By Jeeves here last season, he said he was still thinking in threes: "I've got three new ones on tour at the moment in England, which I wrote this year. They've got a general title of Damsels in Distress. They're three full-length plays and they all share the same set and the same cast. They were written for a repertory company and they've proved very successful; people just love coming back and seeing the same actors in different roles. They'll come to the West End next year."
FULL MONTY MARCHING
"They're laughing in London in all the same places," reports Tony-nominated choreographer Jerry Mitchell, just back from plopping most of the original Broadway cast of The Full Monty down in Londontown. "It just goes to show you that, if the structure is right, it'll work anywhere."
And he does mean anywhere. On Monday, in Los Angeles, Mitchell and director Jack O'Brien put the second national company of the show into sexy motion. They have a Tony winner on board--Dreamgirls' Cleavant Derricks in the André DeShields role--plus Christian Anderson, Carol Woods, Robert Westenberg, Geoffrey Nauffts, Christopher Hanke, and the debuting Michael Todaro. Comprising the wifely faction are Jennifer Naimo, Whitney Allen, and Heidi Blickenstaff. Alternating as Anderson's teenage son are Bret Fox and Brett Murray.
The company will do two months at L.A.'s Ahmanson, beginning the first week in April, then go on to Boston, Washington D.C., and Japan. While in Los Angeles, Nauffts plans to restage--once more, for the West Coast--Stephen Belber's taut, triangular Tape with its much-praised New York cast: Alison West, Dominic Fumusa, and Josh Stamberg.
FULL TILT KILT
Director Jack Hofsiss has a lot to answer for these days with Surviving Grace. Now, he has understandably flung himself into Kilt, a new five-character comedy by Jonathan Wilson that will have its U.S. premiere courtesy of The Directors Company on April 6.
Chris Payne Gilbert, who made a beeline for L.A. after his debut here in NYC in Gross Indecency, stars as a young Scot turned go-go dancer. His mom is the Mom of the Moment, thanks to raves for her Kissing Jessica Stein film: Tovah Feldshuh. Others in the cast are Herb Foster (late of Kiss Me, Kate), Jamie Harris (son of Richard), and Kathleen Doyle.
IT'S NOT ALL OVER YET
Princeton's revival of Edward Albee's All Over was so elegantly cast and directed (by Emily Mann) that you could just see it getting a New York transfer. Happily, Roundabout's Todd Haimes could see it, too: He's installing the production in the company's Gramercy Theatre annex in May. The cast: Rosemary Harris, Pamela Nyberg, Michael Learned, William Biff McGuire, John Christopher Jones, John Carter, and Myra Carter. "I hope it has a life," Harris remarked at the McCarter opening. "I think it would work Off-Broadway." So be it.
By the way: The original 1971 production, which starred Jessica Tandy, Betty Field, Colleen Dewhurst, and Madeline Sherwood, played the Martin Beck on West 45th Street. Above the theater were neons proclaiming "Edward Albee's All Over directed by John Gielgud." But, at dusk, the "directed by" was barely visible to passersby...!