Summer Guide: Directors Ivo Van Hove and Peter Stein Anchor at Governors Island

The Lincoln Center Festival brings high art to the harbor

Across the water from Manhattan, along a water-lapped boulevard, near goose-infested fields, and adjacent to a rubbish dump, stands New York's latest theatrical destination—a squat 1970s warehouse.

With its peeling paint and buzzing fluorescent lights, it seems an unlikely space for rigorous Continental drama. But this summer, Lincoln Center will appropriate this Governors Island structure for Flemish director Ivo van Hove's adaptation of Teorema and German auteur Peter Stein's rendition of The Demons. They're two of the most anticipated works in the Lincoln Center Festival, which runs July 7 to 25.

On a sunny day in early May, the building appears distinctly unprepossessing. Carpeted with leaves and dust and not a little musty, it abounds with disused parks equipment. But once work begins on July 1, stagehands will transform it into a theater with twice the playing space of Alice Tully Hall and seating for between 400 and 500 spectators. To render it habitable for midsummer performances, Lincoln Center must ferry in lights, sets, sound equipment (the van Hove show alone requires some 40 speakers), a robust air-conditioning system, catering facilities, up-market Porta-Potties—which festival director Nigel Reddin describes as "quite sophisticated"—and several thousand audience members.

Last September's New Island Festival, a celebration of Dutch performances, set an enviable precedent for staging theater on Governors Island, yet it remains a challenging site. Arranging all this boat-borne conveyance "is difficult," says Reddin. But likely worth the bother. While the five boroughs teem with accessible theater spaces, none resembles this place. Though separated from Manhattan by less than two miles, this former military installation and Coast Guard site, now a national park, seems a different world entirely—an uneasy combination of garrison, suburb, and ghost town. "It's a mythical space," says van Hove. "It doesn't belong to New York." Stein and van Hove both believe that the island's particular quality—so near New York and so removed from it—will resonate with their demanding productions.

The Demons, based on the 1872 Dostoyevsky novel and set to run 12 hours, concerns a group of Russian revolutionaries who have sequestered themselves from mainstream society. Stein tells the Voice that he was "quite astonished by the loneliness and quietness of a place so near to noisy Manhattan." The relative isolation of the island should mirror that of the sect just as the circumstances of the all-day play (communal dining, forced mingling) should forge the audience into a community similar, if less violent, to that which the actors depict. Weather permitting, Stein promises "a beautiful holiday and an optimal encounter with the romance of one of the greatest writers ever."

Van Hove, however, would not term his play "a beautiful holiday." Teorema, based on the 1968 film and subsequent novel by Pier Paolo Pasolini, explores the troubling consequences of a handsome drifter's arrival into a bourgeois Italian family. This piece will mark van Hove's second production in the warehouse, after Jean Cocteau's La Voix humaine, which he staged during the New Island Festival. He finds it a particularly apt setting for the play, since "there is nothing there. Not a shop, not a bar, nothing. So it feels as though you are in a lonely place. That fits very well with this production, where you are witnessing a family that must deal with their existential crisis."

Depending on the success of this summer's endeavor and future plans for the island, which will likely include the demolition of the warehouse, Lincoln Center may or may not continue to produce works here. But if all goes well, future visitors may be able to enjoy some demanding drama alongside their biking, boating, and picnicking. Van Hove, for one, hopes that theater continues on the island. "It's a secret place," he says, "filled with mystery. There is something still haunting it."

'The Demons,' July 10 and 11; 'Teorema,' July 15–19;Lincoln Center Festival, Governors Island, lct.org

'The Grand Manner'
Performances begin June 1

A.R. Gurney, WASP playwright extraordinaire, takes his tasseled loafers on a trip down memory lane in this new comedy based on his own boyhood. Some 60 years ago, the 18-year-old Gurney journeyed to New York to gaze at actress Katharine Cornell, then heralded as "The First Lady of the American Stage." In this new comedy at Lincoln Center, Gurney returns his schoolboy crush to the stage. As played by Kate Burton, she hasn't aged a day. The Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, 150 West 65th Street, lct.org

Clubbed Thumb Summerworks
Performances Begin June 2

Few theater companies are named for physical disfigurements. We're still waiting for the Undescended Testicle Rep and the Hip Dysplasia Players. But even if there were more, Clubbed Thumb would still remain among the best. This year's Summerworks Festival, the last at the soon-to-be-shuttered Ohio Theatre, includes plays by Kate E. Ryan, Samuel D. Hunter, and Anne Washburn, which respectively concern neighborhood kids, genocide, and an unwholesome health-food store. The Ohio Theatre, 66 Wooster Street, clubbedthumb.org

'The Merchant of Venice'
Performances begin June 9

"Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?" Well, yes. And, happily, Shylock, the Jew who voices these questions, has Al Pacino to portray him. Shakespeare in the Park has recruited Pacino to perform the usurer in Shakespeare's still-very-much-a-problem play. Though bankers are unpopular these days, Pacino may stir up a new appreciation for moneymen. The Merchant of Venice runs in repertory with The Winter's Tale. Delacorte Theater, Central Park at 81st Street, publictheater.org

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