Lerner's `Murder of Isaac' to debut at Center Stage

THEATER

April 14, 2005|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

An Israeli play so controversial it has never been produced in the playwright's native land will highlight the 2005-2006 Center Stage season. Motti Lerner's The Murder of Isaac takes place in a rehabilitation center where patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder stage a play based on the 1995 assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Calling it "provocative" and "very original," Center Stage artistic director Irene Lewis acknowledged, "I don't think many theaters would touch it." As proof, The Murder of Isaac has had only one previous production - in Germany in 2000. Center Stage's production, directed by Lewis, will be its American and English language premiere.

Although Center Stage doesn't consciously build its seasons around themes, most of the other 2005-2006 offerings focus to some extent on relationships between fathers and daughters.

The season will open with the most famous example in dramatic literature, Shakespeare's King Lear. The father-daughter theme also predominates in The Heiress, based on Henry James' Washington Square, and in Lynn Nottage's Crumbs From the Table of Joy, about a widowed father of two daughters who moves his family from Florida to Brooklyn.

As Lewis also pointed out, several of the plays have "a young person at the center," a happy coincidence she hopes will further the theater's efforts to attract younger audiences.

Here's the full lineup:

King Lear, by William Shakespeare (Sept. 23-Nov. 6, Head Theater). Stephen Markle, who previously starred in The Cherry Orchard, Othello, A Moon for the Misbegotten and The Misanthrope at Center Stage, will play the title role, under Lewis' direction.

The Heiress, by Ruth and Augustus Goetz (Nov. 3-Dec. 4, Pearlstone Theater). Set in 1850s New York, this dramatization of James' novel concerns the wooing of an "old maid" by a suitor who may be a mere gold digger. Lewis calls it "a melodrama in the best sense of the word."

Once on This Island, music by Stephen Flaherty, book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens (Dec. 16-Jan. 22, Pearlstone). Center Stage resident dramaturg Gavin Witt describes this musical by the creators of Ragtime as a combination of "a Caribbean Little Mermaid, Romeo and Juliet [and] Cinderella. It's infused with the classic story elements, but with the Caribbean flavor."

The Murder of Isaac, by Lerner (Feb. 3-March 12, Head). Center Stage presented two staged readings of this play in its First Look series in December 2002. "The audience response was astonishing," said Witt, noting the "meaty ethical examinations" that occurred in post-play discussions. Lerner has written that he sees the play as "a tool to observe the anxieties and the horrors that exist within so many of us and don't allow us to seek peace honestly and decisively."

Hay Fever, by Noel Coward (March 24-April 23, Pearlstone). Previously produced by Center Stage in 1974, this comedy takes place over a summer weekend, spent with the eccentric family of a famous actress. Witt calls it a play that celebrates "the joy of comedic chaos."

Crumbs From the Table of Joy, by Nottage (May 5-June 11, Pearlstone). An earlier play by the author of Intimate Apparel, which Center Stage produced two seasons ago, Crumbs introduces theatergoers to another eclectic mix of characters - not only an African-American widower and his daughters, but also their Communist aunt and white German stepmother.

Six-play subscriptions range from $60 to $300 and are on sale. (Plays and performance dates are subject to change.)

Call 410-332-0033 or visit www.centerstage.org.

`Pond' revival

The revival of On Golden Pond that played Washington's Kennedy Center in October opened on Broadway April 7. Starring James Earl Jones and Leslie Uggams, the production received mixed, but mostly favorable, reviews. Here's a sampling:

"Jones' raging Norman - charmingly balanced by the even-keeled performances of Uggams as his wife, Ethel - seems destined to be remembered as one of the finer performances of recent Broadway seasons." (Ben Brantley, New York Times)

"The production's chief attribute is one of America's most majestic actors, James Earl Jones. ... If nothing else in director Leonard Foglia's dignified production approaches that towering standard, it doesn't much matter." (David Rooney, Variety)

"Leonard Foglia has directed a loving, leisurely production of Ernest Thompson's sentimental serio-comedy. ... But this is the sort of play - complete with the sound effects of loons - that functions best by questioning least." (Linda Winer, Newsday).

`Big River' extended

Ford's Theatre in Washington has extended Deaf West Theatre's stirring production of Big River through June 4. Tickets for an additional 40 performances are on sale. For more information, call 202-347-4833 or visit www.fordstheatre.org.

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