Goat of Hope

When It Comes to Playwright Edward Albee, It's Feast or Famine

Uptown, the flood of incoming shows carries ominously familiar names: Those that aren't revivals (The Crucible, Morning's at Seven, I'm Not Rappaport) tend to be stage remakes of familiar movies (Sweet Smell of Success, Thoroughly Modern Millie, The Graduate). Downtown, things are fresher but by the same token always iffier, and contributions from established writers are sparse. Where's a theatergoer to turn for work that comes with a guarantee of surprise and yet some hint of quality control attached?

Unlikely as it would have seemed 10 years ago, the answer is: to Edward Albee. Albee's plays since his epoch-making Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962) haven't appealed to every taste. In the '70s, he underwent a critical blitzing—some of it deserved, but much of it way over the top—that kept him off the New York stage for over a decade. All was forgiven, though, when he bounced back in the mid '90s, with the Signature Theatre's all-Albee season (including the gemlike Finding the Sun) and the long-running Three Tall Women, followed by last year's argument-starting Play About the Baby.

Now a theatrical elder statesman, despite the frequent ellipticality of his statements, he's back with another double act: The Signature prefigured the arrival of spring by producing Occupant, Albee's tribute to his longtime neighbor and fellow artist, the late Louise Nevelson, embodied onstage by no less than Anne Bancroft. And opening imminently on Broadway is the Master's newest theatrical puzzle, The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?, starring Bill Pullman and Mercedes Ruehl and directed by David Esbjornson, who also steered Play About the Baby safely into port.

All in the family: Bill Pullman, Mercedes Ruehl, and the kids.
photo: Alastair Thain
All in the family: Bill Pullman, Mercedes Ruehl, and the kids.

As always, participants in the production are being enthusiastic about the new work's "boldness" and gnomically evasive about its contents. All they'll say is that it concerns a famous architect who, as he turns 50, must confess to his wife and son that he's involved in a relationship likely to destroy both his marriage and his career. What this has to do with a goat remains to be seen when the show opens on March 10, but we're officially advised that it's a real quadruped, and not merely a metaphoric matter of the couple getting each other's goat. Whether the actual beast is billy or nanny has also not been specified, nor has its connection to the song lyric from Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen of Verona that provides the play's subtitle, most familiar in its setting by Franz Schubert.

Whatever the play and its goat add up to, we'll have the pleasure of welcoming Pullman, making his Broadway debut (though with Off-Broadway and regional theater credits sprinkled through his extensive filmography), and welcoming back Ruehl, not seen on the Main Stem since the mid-'90s revival of The Rose Tattoo. Will they and their supporting players, Stephen Rowe and Jeffrey Carlson, rescue the playwright from turning once again into a critical scapegoat? As we've learned from previous experience, with Albee's plays any advance speculation is just so much chèvre. The only way to find out is to head for the Golden Theatre (252 West 45th Street, 239-6200) and see for yourself. Previews have already begun, so don't dillydally—remember what a tough time your grandfather had getting tickets for Virginia Woolf after the reviews came out.

Performances begin March 5
BAM Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton Street, Brooklyn, 718-636-4100

The season's second big Cymbeline production arrives at BAM courtesy of Shakespeare's Globe Theater. A cast of only six actors—including Globe artistic director Mark Rylance—tackle the play's 30-some parts, in director Mike Alfreds's minimalist production.

Performances begin March 6
Playwrights Horizons at the Atlantic Theater, 336 West 20th Street, 279-4200

Richard Nelson returns with an "ode to desire, longing, and the bittersweet collision of youth and adulthood." (Only bittersweet in long retrospect, of course.) Set in 1957 Greenwich Village—what, no Pink Pussycat?—the play promises to evoke some jazzy NYC nostalgia.

Performances begin March 7
Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, Lincoln Center, 239-6200

Horton Foote's latest is a kind of Three Sisters, had Chekhov hailed from Texas. Here a family's tale is also the history of a state. Expect Foote to get the best from his formidable cast: Roberta Maxwell, Hallie Foote, and Jean Stapleton.

March 12-April 14
Joseph Papp Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, 260-6400

It's pillow-book talk in Naomi Iizuka's latest. A rare art find causes an academic frenzy, one that threatens to rewrite the study of Asian antiquity. Iizuka's previous NYC outing, The War of the Worlds, ran as part of last year's Next Wave festival, directed by Anne Bogart. Mark Wing-Davey helms this time around.

March 14-April 20,
Axis Theater, 1 Sheridan Square, 807-9300

The Axis Company mounts its second annual series of short plays. Descend into its subterranean, sci-fi home for six new pieces, including Randall Sharp's 63 OCP and David Balutanski's Loading.

March 15-April 27
Speed, 20 West 39th Street, 501-1986

Perhaps the most plainspoken title in English drama. This time around, though, the Women's Shakespeare Company pull a Donkey Show, mounting their musicalized production in a club space rather than a theater. R.J. Tolan directs this all-female rock version of John Ford's 1631 classic.

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