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On Stage: New class of theater hall of famers

Wednesday, November 17, 1999

By Christopher Rawson, Post-Gazette Drama Critic

One playwright, one director/producer, one arts advocate and five actors -- that's the 1999 harvest of the Theater Hall of Fame, just announced.

Leading the list is brilliant British (but Czech-born) playwright Tom Stoppard, whom, if you've read me at all these past 15 years, you know I admire greatly. The actors are Hal Holbrook (forever Mark Twain, but he's done much more), Robert Morse (from "How to Succeed" to "Tru"), "Frances Sternhagen ("Equus," "On Golden Pond"), Teresa Wright (a longtime pro) and Jerry Orbach ("The Fantasticks," "Chicago"). The producer/director is Gordon Davidson, who heads the Mark Taper Forum in that erratically theatrical city, Los Angeles, and has sent many shows to New York. And the arts advocate is Kitty Carlisle Hart, who started as an actress but who led the New York State Council on the Arts under four governors.

They were chosen from 70 nominees who met such basic criteria as, for actors, at least five major stage credits over 25 years. The voters were members of the American Theatre Critics Association, members of the Hall of Fame and selected theater historians. The induction will be Jan. 31 at Broadway's Gershwin Theater.

THE WEEK THAT WAS: Clearly, the performance of the week was Saturday at Pitt Stadium -- nostalgia and victory magnified by 74 years of history. Sunday afternoon's Public Theater finale at the Hazlett Theatre on the North Side didn't have that much glamour or pathos, because 24 years is a relative blink and because the Hazlett isn't facing the wrecking ball. The final audience for "How I Learned to Drive" left the goalposts standing, because, when the Public moves to the O'Reilly, the Hazlett has a future -- as long as Duane Ashley of Citiparks can find it the stable financing and administration it needs.

Let's keep our fingers crossed on that one.

Meanwhile, the Public staff moved the week before into the Cultural Trust's O'Reilly Theater. That's why I didn't have their Nov. 7 box office report last week -- their computers weren't up yet. In fact, the staff move was delayed a few weeks because an unplanned wall in the new offices had to be removed. (And they say we shouldn't be worried about Y2K troubles?)

Also ending Sunday was Jeffrey Hatcher's "Compleat Female Stage Beauty" at City Theatre. I hear rumors of subscriber disquiet over its touches of nudity and sex, but I hope they were just the usual tribute that convention pays to the extraordinary. And moral controversy mirrors the play, which is about women being allowed to perform in public in the English Restoration. Since Puritans thought it immoral both for women to perform in public and for men to play women's roles, what was theater to do? Then, as now, Puritans don't trust theater at all.

Finally, I'm waiting eagerly but with trepidation for the results of the great PG comics survey. Personally, I voted to trash the wretchedly drawn "Sally Forth," but don't worry, I have no influence on big decisions like this.

E-MAIL OF THE (LAST) WEEK: From mime Dan Kamin: "Did you notice the headline in today's PG Region section: ' "Mime" robs bank'? ...Oops, gotta go. Cops pounding on the door. I'm not worried. I have the right to remain silent."

BOTTOM LINE: Paid admissions at city's professional theaters for week ending Nov. 14:

Drive/Public (80%), 2,924

Stage Beauty/City (91%), 1,690

Private Eyes/Playhouse Rep (88%), 320

For week ending Nov. 7:

Drive/Public (74%), 2,693

FINAL WORDS: "I hate the word 'block.' I will not block -- it does just that. The correct B word is behavior, which includes expressive and internal elements."

-- David Wheeler, director of Playhouse's "Private Eyes."

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