September 15, 2012

My More Idiosyncratic Fall Preview Than Usual

Like most of you, I’ve been looking through all the fall previews that everyone else has been doing and, to be honest, I don’t know that there are all that many shows that I’m really looking forward to this season. 

However, one thing I am eager to see is Giant, Michael John LaChiusa’s musical adaptation of the old James Dean-Rock Hudson-Elizabeth Taylor movie that’s scheduled to open at the Public Theater in November. I saw an earlier production of the show when it played down at Washington’s Signature Theatre four years ago and am curious about how it’s evolved. 

And I’m also intrigued by The Twenty-Seventh Man, a new play about the persecution of writers and poets in Stalinist Russia that’s also opening at the Public in November. Nathan Englander has adapted his short story of the same name and if his play is anywhere near as good as his most recent short story collection, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Ann Frank,” then this show could be something very special.

Rounding off my must-see list is The Great God Pan, the latest Amy Herzog play about the lives of liberal New Yorkers that’s scheduled to open at Playwrights Horizons in December because I’m an unabashed Herzog groupie.

But what I am really looking forward to this fall is the continuing privilege of seeing some of the actors I most admire—some famous, some less sotackle new challenges.  Here are six of them:

Brian F. O’Byrne in If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet.  I know that most people are excited about this new dark, dysfunctional-family comedy because it will be the New York stage debut of the movie actor Jake Gyllenhaal but what's got me jazzed is that it also will mark the return to the stage of O’Byrne, who originated the role of Father Flynn in Doubt. He then spent the next five years in Hollywood which, for my money, didn’t make anywhere near the best use of his considerable talent. So I can hardly wait to welcome him home when the show opens at the Roundabout Theatre Company’s Laura Pels Theatre next week.

Kathleen Chalfant in Red Dog Howls. Chalfant long ago proved that she’s unbeatable when it comes to delivering the emotional goods without even a hint of bathos.  Plus she has one of the most mellifluous voices in the business. So even if this new role isn’t up to her iconic ones in Wit or Angels in America, it’ll be a treat to see—and listen to—Chalfant in this new play about an elderly woman with a connection to the Armenian Genocide in which over 1 million people were massacred between 1915 and 1923. It opens on Sept. 24 at the New York Theatre Workshop.

Boyd Gaines in An Enemy of the People. The unwavering integrity that Gaines brings to every role is one of the main reasons that he’s already won four Tonys and probably should have won several others along the way. It’s also what makes me want to see him in this new adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s morality play about a man who takes a principled but unpopular stand against corruption in his hometown. The fact that Gaines' main nemesis will be played by the equally unaffected Richard Thomas makes this production all the more alluring. It opens at the Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on Sept. 27. 

Bobby Cannavale and Al Pacino in Glengarry Glen Ross. Talk about a no-brainer. Cannavale’s streetwise flair seems tailor-made for Ricky Roma, the office hot shot in David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize-winning classic about a group of desperate real estate agents.  While Pacino, who played Roma in the 1992 film version, seems to be at just the right time in his life to take on the role of Shelley "The Machine" Levene, the old-timer who is down on his luck but not ready to count himself out. I mean is there any self-respecting theater lover who doesn’t want to see these two mix it up when the show opens at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre on Nov. 11?

Norbert Leo Butz in Dead Accounts. There doesn’t seem to be anything that Butz can’t do.  He can be side-splittingly funny (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) or devastatingly heart-breaking (last season’s revival of How I Learned to Drive) and his manic song-and-dance number almost single-handedly kept Catch Me if You Can afloat. So how can I not be curious about what he’s going to do when he stars opposite Katie Holmes (aka the former Mrs. Tom Cruise) in the latest comedy by Theresa Rebeck (the erstwhile show-runner of the Broadway-on-TV series “Smash”) that’s scheduled to open at the Music Box Theatre on Nov. 29. 

Patti LuPone in The Anarchist. Everybody knows that LuPone is one of Broadway’s reigning musical comedy divas but what some of us may have forgotten is that she can do straight drama too.  And this season, LuPone is teaming up with her old buddy David Mamet (this is their fifth project together) to star in his new two-hander about a Weather Undergroundish inmate who is seeking parole from her prison warden. It raises the ante even more that the warden will be played by the fine film actress Debra Winger, making her Broadway debut when this philosophical drama opens at the Lyceum Theatre on Dec. 2.  

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