Charlton Heston
Charlton Heston
From Chuck Heston in old Chicago to death-row drama in P-Town to Harold Pinter in the City by the Bay, here's a whirlwind tour of some of the most fascinating things that are currently happening in our theater-filled nation.

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MASTER HAROLD AND THE BAY

The double-bill of Harold Pinter's opening September 19 at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater was already a big deal: the first American production of Pinter's latest piece, backed with a revival of his earliest. Add to that the theater company's 35th anniversary, throw in the 10th anniversary season for artistic director Carey Perloff, and the charged atmosphere over at A.C.T. should come as no surprise.

"Carey is envisioning this season as a celebration of the artists she's worked with in her career, and especially in her career at A.C.T." says theater spokesman Jon Wolanske. "This is just really exciting, a really good way to begin that season." Perloff and Pinter first got chummy way back in 1988 at Off-Broadway's Classic Stage Company, where the director knocked out not one but two of the Brit scribe's works: The Birthday Party and Mountain Language. Since then Perloff has dealt with the menacing pauses in The Collection (in 1990 at L.A.'s Mark Taper Forum) and, once landed at A.C.T., in a 1998 production of Old Times.

Pinter himself will descend on the Bay area for the closing weekend of The Celebration/The Room. And, on October 15, he and Perloff will hold court at the theater in a "public conversation." Not too public though; the event is for A.C.T. subscribers only.

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SHAKESPEARE IN FLUX

They're officially ex-tenants of Edith Wharton's ancestral home at The Mount in scenic Lenox, Massachusetts, but the members of Tina Packer's legendary Shakespeare & Company are by no means down for the count. Packer is figuring out how to raise the dough for her dream project: building a replica of the Rose Theater, the Bard's pre-Globe hang out, on the company's new 63-acre campus down the street from the Mount.

Meanwhile Shakespeare & Company soldiers on, housed in a historic mansion on the new property, with . This is a based-on-real-events kind of story, but it ain't no Amy Fisher/Gary Condit movie of the week: Tanglewood welcomes its audience into the complicated friendship between two giants of your freshman year American Lit class: Herman (Moby Dick Melville and Nathaniel (The Scarlet Letter) Hawthorne.

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NAME THAT SHOW

If they ever give a theater award for Most Clever Title For a Comedy Revue, Chicago's Second City Theater will have to be in the running. Last year's mainstage revue was called Slaughterhouse 5, Cattle 0; a couple years back the side-stage company gave us If the White House is a-Rockin', Don't Come a-Knockin'. This year's mainstage offering, wrapping up rehearsals and set to open on September 12, is no exception: the title, , isn't just kooky, says Sec City producer Kelly Leonard--it also happens to be relevant.

"What ended up happening [in rehearsal], for some reason or another, was that babies, embryos, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, these sorts of scenes started presenting themselves in great numbers," Leonard explains. "Normally when you're doing one of our shows, when you do one parent scene, there's no way you would go to similar material again. We were finding we were creating these things that had great variety, but all seemed to lead back to the same thing."

Embryos on Ice! is unusual for another reason: the four-man, three-woman cast was aided not only by funny-man director Jeff Richmond--who just finished a remount of his hilarious Hamlet spoof at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, and who, by the by, is wed to new Saturday Night Live heartthrob Tina Fey--but also by a clown (literally) named Michael Kennard, of the infamous Mump & Smoot Company.

"The movement in Chicago has been towards a more visceral, physical type of theater," says Leonard, pointing to the enduring success of acrobatic Lookingglass Theater and a recent local hit called 500 Clown MacBeth. "The idea of bringing someone in was interesting to all of us, so that sort of kicked things off."

One more thing about the name--often, deciding on a clever title is the hardest part of the Second City writing process. Not so this time, thanks to heroic cast member Martin Garcia, who came up with both Embryos on Ice! and Fetus Don't Fail Me Now right off the bat.

"The very first two titles thrown out were the ones we ended up picking," Leonard says. "That has never happened before in the history of Second City."

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AND FURTHERMORE...

Provincetown, Massachusetts can't seem to get away from politics these days. After a summer dominated by controversy over the attempted shuttering of Naked Boys Singing! by the city's licensing department, it's on to the dark halls of justice for . A collaborative work between P-town actress Marjorie Conn and Texas death row inmate Larry Donell Davis, the show features Conn playing the 'spirit' of Davis. This staged reading of The Soul of the Artist, running September 21-30, is a part of the Provincetown Fringe Festival...

...The Rainy City gets a splash of the avant-garde come October, when Anne Bogart and her SITI company show up to knock out a production of at On the Boards in Seattle's Behnke Center for Contemporary Performance. That'll be the West Coast premiere for the one-woman show, starring SITI-ite Ellen Lauren, based on the writings and life of Virginia Woolf...

...Last, but certainly not least interesting, here's something from our "didn't see that coming" file. Beginning September 18, the Chicago Center for the Performing Arts is offering A.R. Gurney's romantic two-hander starring Charlton Heston and his wife, Lydia Clarke Heston. Suggested alternate titles include Ben-Hur's and His and Moses: You've Got Mail!