A Thornton Wilder classic Experimental: Center Stage's Irene Lewis directs the New York Shakespeare Festival's revival of Thorton Wilder's 1942 play, 'The Skin of Our Teeth.'

June 08, 1998|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Irene Lewis, artistic director of Center Stage, has been hanging out in the park lately -- New York's Central Park, that is, where she is directing a revival of Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1942 play, "The Skin of Our Teeth," which begins a month-long run there on Friday.

The play -- about generations of the Atrobus family of Excelsior, N.J. -- is part of the New York Shakespeare Festival's new focus on non-Shakespearean classics, following the completion last summer of its 10-year Shakespeare marathon.

Lewis said she has been discussing various plays with the Festival for the last five years and had a hand in the selection of both "The Skin of Our Teeth" and its cast, which includes John Goodman and Frances Conroy as Mr. and Mrs. Antrobus, and Kristen Johnston ("3rd Rock from the Sun") as their seductive maid, Sabina.

Lewis spoke effusively about Goodman (who appeared in Center Stage's 1979 production of "Lone Star"). "He's a fabulous talent," she said. "He can do a clown, and he can do a very tough man, and there aren't many that have the range, and I think that is the range of the role."

The play has an experimental element since it takes place, as Wilder wrote, in "two times at once ... both in prehistoric times and in a New Jersey commuters' suburb today."

Taking her cue from these dual time periods, Lewis is including a note in the program explaining that "the performance the audience is seeing is the first preview of a 1998 revival of a 1942 play." That way, there is a logical context for Wilder's ploy of

having the actors stop the action and address the audience directly.

As part of her research, Lewis has been talking to Wilder's nephew, A. Tappan Wilder, who lives in Chevy Chase. Wilder told her his uncle "loved being outdoors" and especially liked having his plays performed in parks. The playwright's thinking, she said, was: "Let's say you lose 1,000 people after the first act and another 1,000 after the second, you still had several thousand in the third."

On the day we caught up with her, Lewis had also been interviewed by Ms. magazine, which is profiling her as part of a series on women artistic directors. Commenting on the increased number of women theatrical directors, Lewis said, "It's certainly a better time than the one I started in, grew up in. I guess if you keep knocking at the door long enough and some squeeze through, which is what I felt happened with me, they maybe pave the way for others."

Edelstein heads to New York

Also in news from Center Stage, Barry Edelstein -- the director of the production of Paula Vogel's "How I Learned to Drive" that played its final performance yesterday -- received word during the run that he had been named artistic director of New York's Classic Stage Company, an off-Broadway theater that specializes in new approaches to classic plays.

Edelstein intends to not only widen the selection of classics, but also commission translations by top American playwrights. He is the second Center Stage guest director tapped for a high-profile post while working in Baltimore. Michael Greif was chosen as artistic director of California's La Jolla Playhouse when he was here in 1994. Two years later, Greif directed the 1996 Tony Award-winning production of "Rent."

A new nose to know

Cyrano de Bergerac's nose may loom large, but Edmond Rostand's play about him has shrunk to a more practical size, thanks in part to the efforts of two Baltimoreans.

Mike Field, a speech writer at Johns Hopkins University and president of the board of Vpstart Crow Productions in northern ++ Virginia, was commissioned by the theater to create a version of the script that would retain the feel of Rostand's French poetry and also convey the excitement of the play for a modern American audience.

Field collaborated with Towson University French professor Roger Poirier on the translation, which uses mostly unrhymed pentameter in place of Rostand's Alexandrine verses, and also reduces the cast size from 44 to 16.

The new version opened last night as part of Vpstart's Theater in the Woods summer series at the Manassas Campus of Northern Virginia Community College. Show times for "Cyrano de Bergerac," which continues through June 28, are 7 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, with an additional performance at 10: 30 p.m. June 20. Tickets are $15. Call 703-257-6572.

Acting skills for teens

The Performance Workshop Theatre Company will hold an acting workshop for teen-agers from June 22-27. The sessions, scheduled from 2 p.m.-4: 30 p.m. daily, will include instruction in theater games, improvisation and physical and vocal techniques preparation for scene work leading to a performance of works-in-progress. Classes will be taught by Joy Ehrlich in the company's theater, 28 E. Ostend St. Tuition is $150. Enrollment is limited to 10 participants. Call 410-659-7830.

Creative drama workshop

Fell's Point Corner Theatre will hold a creative drama workshop for physically and/or mentally challenged children and adults July 6-26.

Participants will rehearse and perform an original play with music, under the direction of Barry Feinstein. Sessions will be held from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays at the theater, 251 S. Ann St., at no cost. Enrollment is limited to 14. Call 410-466-8341.

Pub Date: 6/08/98

jTC

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