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.

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.


CYMBELINE
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.


FRANNY'S WAY
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.


THE CARPETBAGGER'S CHILDREN
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.


36 VIEWS
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.


SHORTER WORKS
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.


'TIS PITY SHE'S A WHORE
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.


VOICES FROM THE HILL
March 20-April 14
Connelly Theatre, 220 East 4th Street, 358-5738

The enterprising Moonwork Theatre Company presents its musical version of Spoon River Anthology. Here's hoping that Andrew Sherman and Rusty Magee's score is a Masters stroke.


THE UNDERPANTS
March 20-April 28
Classic Stage Company, 136 East 13th Street, 677-6210

Steve Martin adapts Carl Sternheim's 1910 farce, about a man who struggles to keep his wife's underwear from falling down. The German Sternheim (1878-1942) wrote comedies about "the heroic life of the bourgeoisie." Not sure who the Martin fellow is.


SWIMMING WITH WATERMELONS
Performances begin March 22
Vineyard Theatre, 108 East 15th Street, 353-0303

Diane Paulus brings her third show in two seasons to the Vineyard. She and Project 400 cohort Randy Weiner mount a love story about a Japanese woman and an American GI in post-World War II Japan. Paulus and Weiner deploy 20 hit songs from the '40s as the piece's score. Presented by the Vineyard and the Music-Theatre Group.


THE FAB 4 REACH THE PEARLY GATES
March 29-April 14
P.S. 122, 150 First Avenue, 477-5288

They're half there already. Lesson: Stick to the rhythm section. Philly's New Paradise Laboratories ship in their performance piece, a play that features a quartet of Liverpudlians playing their encore in heaven (never to be confused with Shea Stadium).


TALK
Performances begin March 29
Joseph Papp Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, 777-1444

Not a play about a deceased magazine. The Foundry Theatre presents Carl Hancock Rux's rumination on the African American artist Archer Aymes, in a piece described by Rux as "an opera of communication and miscommunication."


KISS SHOT
April 4-24
La MaMa, 79A East 4th Street, 475-7710

Jim Neu's latest takes place in L.A. after the conventions of film noir have become the style of everyday life. While theater can sometimes be a nightmare alley, expect the verbally adroit Neu to bring a pleasing touch of evil to his deadpan comedy.


THESE FOUR WALLS
April 4-27
Dixon Place, 309 East 26th Street, 532-1546

Charlotte Meehan's play is described as "a murderous fairy tale of wholesome Christian family life." A mother-in-law's ghost, a barking daughter, lightning in the house—your usual night in Branson.


RICKY JAY ON THE STEM
Performances begin April 9
Second Stage, 307 West 43rd Street, 246-4422

Ricky Jay—card shark and Mr. Legerdemain—returns with a new show of storytelling and sleight of hand. Directed by David Mamet, known for telling a few con stories himself.


CHEAP THRILLS
April 11-20
Here, 145 Sixth Avenue, 647-0202

The worst thing about amnesia is coming out of it and discovering you've murdered somebody. The proto-type collective, which produced Bunny's Last Night in Limbo, mounts this urban myth about a manipulative family and their peculiar visitor.


ATTEMPTS ON HER LIFE
Performances begin April 16
Soho Rep, 46 Walker Street, 479-7979

Following up on its hit [sic], Soho Rep presents Martin Crimp's play about a woman of indecipherable identity. Will it be a blast of English intrigue, or more Fuerchtenünabwendbarfreundlich?


XTRAVAGANZA
April 17-May 4
St. Ann's Warehouse, 38 Water Street, Brooklyn, 212-979-6904

The Builders Association return with its first big show since the Obie-winning Jet Lag. Director Marianne Weems's high-techie production looks at the history of American musical entertainment.


THE MAN WHO HAD ALL THE LUCK
Performances begin April 19
Roundabout, 227 West 42nd Street, 719-1300

A play that didn't have much luck at all, Arthur Miller's first Broadway production lasted less than a week in 1940. Miller has referred to the piece as a "desk-drawer" play, but credits it with leading to both All My Sonsand Death of a Salesman. Actor Chris O'Donnell leads the show back to the Great White Way 52 years later.


HOUSE AND GARDEN
Performances begin April 26
Manhattan Theatre Company, 131 West 55th Street, 581-1212

A spring-sounding combo if there ever was one. Alan Ayckbourn's related plays run concurrently on both MTC stages, the shared cast running back and forth between the two to perform their parts. A neat trick, but how about something a bit more challenging, say The Music Manand The Jew of Malta?


THE SANDMAN
Performances begin May 3
Connelly Theatre, 220 East 4th Street, 358-3657

Target Margin continues its opera season with a concoction of its own—a new opera based on E.T.A. Hoffmann's tale The Sandman. Music by Thomas Cabaniss with a libretto by Douglas Langworthy and David Herskovits, plus Target Margin's trademark gilded theatrics.


THIS THING OF DARKNESS
Performances begin May 8
Atlantic Theater, 336 West 20th Street, 645-1242

Advance info on this Craig Lucas-David Schulner collaboration is murky: "Two young men are about to begin their lives when the future crashes in on their comfortable surroundings." Hope it's not the chandelier busting up the Eames chair.


THE PARADISE PROJECT
May 10-25
The Kitchen, 512 West 19th Street, 255-5793

Video, song, and trapeze—the very lifeblood of the avant-garde. Performer John Kelly teams up with composer Ricky Ian Gordon and lyricist Mark Campbell for a "meditation" on the French film Children of Paradise. There's apparently some mime obsession here, too, so your call.


Listings by Brian Parks

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