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On Stage: Echoes of Pittsburgh in N.Y. theater

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

By Christopher Rawson, Post-Gazette Drama Critic

Just back from New York, as today's cover story makes clear, where I packed in five shows in three days -- reviews to follow soon.

After one -- "Imaginary Friends," Nora Ephron's "play with music" about Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarthy -- I went back to talk with CMU grad Cherry Jones, who plays McCarthy. (Swoosie Kurtz plays Hellman.) Jones calls the show "literary vaudeville." She showed me some pictures of McCarthy and described some of her research process, but what struck me most was to see her pulling on outerwear: It was nearly 11 on a very cold night, but she was about to bike home, as she does to and fro eight times a week. No star ego there! She's an actor's (and critic's) actor -- and in great shape.

That same night I walked by the Royale, where the Charles Dutton-Whoopi Goldberg revival of August Wilson's "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" is in previews. I ran into Todd Kreidler, once a PG reviewer and later Eddie Gilbert's assistant at the Public, now Wilson's assistant on this and other projects. He was talking with Wilson's director, Marion McClinton (a director/playwright we have seen several times in Pittsburgh) and his assistant, Tamara Fisch.

And I learned a couple of pieces of good news: The forever-in-the-works movie of "Fences" is close to happening, with Wilson polishing his rewrite along with the man now hired by producer Scott Rudin ("The Hours") to direct -- McClinton, for whom it will be his movie debut. Wilson thinks it should be made in Pittsburgh. (Good omen: Rudin made "Wonder Boys" here.) Second, Wilson is working on a one-man solo piece he will do in Seattle in late spring, a mix of comedy, autobiography and philosophy -- and he's asked Kreidler to direct.

The next day I interviewed Wilson -- expect that story after "Ma Rainey" opens, Feb. 6.

Last chance for London

There are several other attractive plays in the offing, but I settled on these four to be included in the PG Critic's Choice Tour, March 3-10: "Bombay Dreams" (a lavish musical set in India), "Anything Goes" (at the National Theatre), "The Tempest" (Derek Jacobi at the Old Vic) and "Zipp!," a comic revue that promises to deliver 100 musicals, including "the complete works of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber in 60 seconds." Then we can add other shows (or not) according to individual taste. Call 412-441-3131 for details -- soon.

Call board

That 67 percent given below for the final week of PMT's "A Chorus Line" is for only three performances, but Ken Gargaro says it represents "a strong turnout from the community." The real bottom line is that PMT reports more than $100,000 in single-ticket sales -- "a rarity for us." The rest of this season is apparently secure, but plans are still being studied.

Martin Giles (2002 PG Performer of the Year) has been signed to play the old actor (Mortimer, "the man who dies") in PMT's next show, "The Fantasticks."

I've been thinking about my cagily vague claim two Fridays back that "Athol Fugard is one of the most deserving playwrights in the world not to have won the Nobel Prize." So let me be more precise: The only English-language playwright I think deserves it before Fugard is Arthur Miller.

Tracy Brigden has announced casting for City's next play, Karl Gajdusek's "Fair Game" (March 6-April 6), about a turbulent presidential campaign. Chandler Vinton, who excelled opposite Frank Converse in City's "Mercy of a Storm" and is now starring in "Proof" at Actor's Theatre of Louisville, will play the campaign manager. Cary Anne Spear will play the candidate; others are John Shepard, Ron Menzel and Point Park student Christine Ryndak. Designing the set will be Scott Bradley, who designed "Seven Guitars" on Broadway.

Bottom Line

Paid admissions at city's pro theaters for week ending Jan. 26:

  • Chorus Line/PMT (67%) . . . . . .2,508
  • Sorrows/City (71%) . . . . . . . . . . .1,321

Chris Rawson can be reached at crawson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1666.

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