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O'Reilly Theater: Public Theater has seen parade of famous faces before its footlights

Sunday, December 05, 1999

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Regular patrons of the Public never know where the actors will later turn up, in an August Wilson play on Broadway or "There's Something About Mary." A very few, sadly, have passed on, but many continue to work in the theater. Space doesn't permit updating everyone who graced the stage and wings, but here's a sampling:

Tom Atkins, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," 1975, first of seven shows -- Atkins, who christened the Public's first season with a memorable McMurphy, did dynamic double duty in 1997 and was named PG's Performer of the Year. In "The Steward of Christendom," he played Thomas Dunne, the police chief of Dublin, the last such under British rule, then he reprised that role in March of this year at Boston's Huntington Theater, again for director Eddie Gilbert. Also in 1997, he triumphed as James Tyrone, the tormented patriarch in "Long Day's Journey into Night." Look for him as a cop in "Bruiser," the next George Romero movie, and perhaps at the Public in "The Weir."

Leonard Nimoy, "Twelfth Night," 1975 -- He will forever be associated with Spock, the product of a Vulcan father and Earthling mother, aka the "Star Trek" guy with the pointy ears. He played a cartoon version of himself on TV's "Futurama" and was part of "Brave New World" on TV, as well. He also has directed movies, including two big-screen "Trek" releases, plus "The Good Mother" and "Three Men and a Baby."

Joe Morton, "Sizwe Bansi Is Dead," 1976 -- Morton, who made his stage debut at 21 in Broadway's "Hair," just appeared in "Y2K," NBC's movie about millennium mayhem. He was a NASA official who tried to save "The Astronaut's Wife" and recently completed filming "What Lies Beneath" (he plays Michelle Pfeiffer's shrink). TV viewers will recognize him from "Mercy Point," "Equal Justice" and "Miss Evers' Boys."

Katharine Houghton, "The Seagull," 1979 -- She and her aunt, four-time Oscar winner Katharine Hepburn, played daughter and mother in the movie "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner." Earlier this year, she participated in a Connecticut Historical Society program, "Women of Their Times: Three Generations of Houghton-Hepburn Katharines." A playwright who wrote and appeared off-Broadway in "To Heaven in a Swing" about Louisa May Alcott in 1984, she recently had small roles in "Ethan Frome," "The Night We Never Met" and "Billy Bathgate."

Larry Arrick, artistic director 1982-84 -- Now living in Los Angeles, Arrick periodically heads to New York to work with commentator Jimmy Tingle on CBS's "60 Minutes II." Arrick and Mel Shapiro turned Shapiro's play, "The Lay of the Land" (directed at the Public in 1991 by Lee Grant), into a movie starring Sally Kellerman and Ed Begley Jr. Its video title: "The Student Affair." In May, the Los Angeles Times praised Arrick's direction of Federico Garcia Lorca's "The House of Bernarda Alba" at Ventura Court Theater in Studio City.

Arrick's wife, former Public actress April Shawhan, is a visiting assistant professor at UCLA's Department of Theater and is playing Hecuba in "The Greeks" in L.A.

Don Howard, "Tom Jones," 1982, "History of the American Film," 1983, and "K2," 1984 -- The 47-year-old former actor died in Manhasset, N.Y., Aug. 14 of liver disease. He appeared on Broadway in "Alone Together" with Kevin McCarthy and Janis Paige and in the national tours of "West Side Waltz" and "Legends" starring Mary Martin and Carol Channing. He was the brother of actor Ken Howard.

Keith David, "A Midsummer Night's Dream," 1982 -- This native New Yorker has since done the sublime ("Jelly's Last Jam" and August Wilson's "Seven Guitars" on Broadway and Oliver Stone's "Platoon" on screen) and the ridiculous ("There's Something About Mary"). In a recent TV movie about Tiger Woods, he played Earl Woods, and he was a general in the end-of-world flick "Armageddon."

Sylvia Sidney, " 'night Mother," 1984 -- The waiflike star of the 1930s who specialized in playing victims and received an Oscar nomination in 1973 for "Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams," died July 1, 1999, of throat cancer. She was 88 and had signed a seven-year contract for a recurring role as a travel agent on the new TV series "Fantasy Island."

Roscoe Lee Browne, "Joe Turner's Come and Gone," 1989 -- The king of versatility and voice-overs. Just in the past couple of years, he narrated "Babe" and its sequel, performed great poems and other literary works in a touring show (with Anthony Zerbe) titled "Behind the Broken Words," made a spoken word album called "Murmurs of the Heart" and was hailed for his Broadway work in August Wilson's "Two Trains Running." He owns an Emmy for a guest turn on "The Cosby Show."

Mark Rylance, "Hamlet," 1991 -- The Aug. 23 international edition of Time magazine included a valentine to Rylance, artistic director of Shakespeare's rebuilt Globe theater in London. Rylance had just played Cleopatra in an authentically Jacobean all-male production, directed "Julius Caesar" and renewed his contract through December 2001. In other words, a hit all around.

Marsha Mason, "Amazing Grace," 1995 -- Mason and director Eddie Gilbert were reunited at off-Broadway's Blue Light Theater in 1998 for "Amazing Grace." Mason was the subject of her own "Intimate Portrait" on Lifetime and played California's governor and the target of an assassination plot in the Johnny Depp thriller, "Nick of Time." The former wife of Neil Simon recently did a TV movie and played a kindly nurse who encounters a suicidal TV director in "2 Days in the Valley."

David Conrad, "Arcadia," 1996 -- The heartthrob from ABC's "Relativity" will star in a Fox television pilot (and possible series) based on "L.A. Confidential." He recently finished "Navy Diver," an action picture starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and Robert De Niro. Conrad, sporting very short hair, is a bureaucratic bad guy who -- in a sure sign he's arrived -- gets beaten up by De Niro in the film scheduled for a 2000 release. Earlier this year, Conrad returned to the stage in San Francisco for the U.S. premiere of Tom Stoppard's "Indian Ink." He also filmed an adaptation of "Hedda Gabler" called "A Murder of Peacocks."

Gretchen Cleevely, "Arcadia," 1996 -- Now living in Queens, the Churchill native has been "doing nothing but working steadily at all the best theaters," a colleague reports. She appeared in "The Factory Girls" at the Berkshires' Williamstown Theatre Festival. She was nominated for a Helen Hayes Award for "Dimly Perceived Threats to the System" at D.C.'s Arena Stage, and joined Holly Hunter in Beth Henley's latest Southern gothic comedy, "Impossible Marriage," off-Broadway.

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