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The Huntington becomes the hunted
A cash infusion for the Huntington Theatre Company leads to big news, plus the Actors Shakespeare Project and more

Huntington coups

Big bucks and big news are in the air at the Huntington Theatre Company, which recently announced both the largest gift in its history and a stellar cast for its season opener, a Broadway-bound staging of August Wilsonís Gem of the Ocean. Two-time Pulitzer winner Wilson is a well-known theatrical name, but those who make the Huntingtonís business their own will also be familiar with the name of the late Stanford Calderwood, a major donor to the arts in Boston who died in 2002. Calderwood was a passionate Huntington supporter with a quick-trigger checkbook. He endowed the artistic directorship in honor of his wife, making Nicholas Martin the Norma Jean Calderwood Artistic Director, and he gave a substantial sum to endow the Stanford Calderwood Fund for New American Plays at the Huntington.

Now the Trustees of the Calderwood Charitable Foundation have announced a $4 million gift to the theater company, which has responded by naming the Theater Pavilion adjacent to the Boston Center for the Arts, which will open this fall, the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts. The Pavilion houses two new theaters, the 360-seat Virginia Wimberly Theatre and the 200-seat Nancy and Edward Roberts Studio Theatre. The two spaces will be managed by the Huntington and programmed jointly with the BCA. And itís fitting, given Calderwoodís advocacy of new plays, that the inaugural production in the Wimberly will be Calderwood-commissioned playwright Melinda Lopezís Sonia Flew. To be directed by Norma Jean Calderwood Artistic Director Martin, the new work, which is set in Minneapolis and Havana and centers on the identity struggle of a woman who had been airlifted by Castro-apprehensive parents from Cuba to the United States in 1961, runs October 8 through November 28. All Calderwood, all the time.

Meanwhile, back at the Boston University Theatre, the Huntingtonís main stage, formidable thespian forces are gathering. Long-time August Wilson collaborator Marion McClinton will direct the Huntington staging of Gem of the Ocean, the ninth work of the playwrightís promised 10-play cycle chronicling decade-by-decade the African-American experience in the 20th century. The play, which is set in Pittsburgh in 1904, "when slavery was still a living memory," focuses on a drifter named Citizen Barlow, who arrives at the home of apparently immortal community seer Aunt Ester (a presence in several Wilson works, sheís 285 years old here) in search of spiritual redemption. The production, which opens the Huntington season September 10 through October 17, is already slated for a Broadway run, with previews commencing October 22.

Perhaps that accounts for the star power of the cast, which is led by Phylicia Rashad, who puts on a century or two to play Aunt Ester. No longer primarily known as Mrs. Huxtable on The Cosby Show, Rashad picked up the 2004 Tony Award for Leading Actress in a Play for her portrayal of matriarch Lena Younger in the recent Broadway revival of Lorraine Hansberryís A Raisin in the Sun (the one with P. Diddy in his legit-theater debut). Rashad will be joined on stage by 2000 Obie and Drama Desk Award winner and 2002 Olivier Award winner (for his performance in Wilsonís Jitney) Anthony Chisholm; 1996 Tony Award winner (for his performance in Wilsonís Seven Guitars, in which he also appeared at the Huntington) Ruben Santiago-Hudson; powerful film actor and 1988 Tony nominee (for Wilsonís Joe Turnerís Come and Gone, in which he also appeared at the Huntington) Delroy Lindo; Lisa Gay Hamilton, who apart from being regular on televisionís The Practice also starred in Wilsonís The Piano Lesson on Broadway; John Earl Jelks, who reprises the role of Citizen Barlow, which he played in Gem of the Oceanís previous productions in Chicago and Los Angeles; and the memorably named Raynor Scheine, who reprises the role of itinerant trader Rutherford Selig, which he also played in Joe Turner. Welcome to the Wilson Club, an organization with some powerful acting chops. For Huntington ticket information, call (617) 266-0800, or visit www.bu.edu/huntington.

ó Carolyn Clay

My Kuntzsom for a horse

The Actors Shakespeare Project, the troupe led by American Repertory Theatre veteran Benjamin Evett and announced last spring by a benefit performance that featured many prominent Boston-area actors, will present its first full production, the Bardís Richard III, October 14 through November 7 at the venerable Old South Meeting House, from which, in 1773, the Boston Tea Party was launched. The venue, however, is not the biggest surprise the ASP announcement has in store. The leading role of diabolical Dick Crookback, memorably undertaken on film by a Captain Hookish Laurence Olivier and a Fascisto Ian McKellen, will by filled by popular local writer/actor John Kuntz, whoís best known for his own wild-haired one-man shows and for his maniacally acerb turn in David Sedarisís The Santaland Diaries. Itís a long way from Crumpet to Crookback, but doubters should stand reminded that Kuntz turned in a strong, almost unrecognizable performance two summers back as Welsh officer, patriot, and leek wearer Fluellen in Commonwealth Shakespeare Companyís Henry V.

The Actors Shakespeare Projectís mission is to present stripped-down Shakespeare that concentrates on character and language rather than on frippery and concept and that utilizes a site specific to the meaning of the play. "The Old South Meeting House," says Evett, who will direct Richard III, "has such a great history as a center of Bostonís political and social activity. Itís ideal for this play, one of the greatest political dramas ever written."

Taking on hefty roles in the ASPís inaugural outing are Marya Lowry, who will pull a gender switch on the scheming Richardís right-hand henchperson, the Duke of Buckingham; Sarah Newhouse, who will play Anne, whom Richard woos after murdering her husband (heís just warming up); and Evett himself, who will play Henry, Earl of Richmond, who finally puts an end to Richardís abortive reign at Bosworth Field, grabbing the throne for the Tudors. Jennie Israel, Bobbie Steinbach, Ken Cheeseman Paula Langton, and those Boston-area Lunts, Paula Plum and Richard Snee, are also in the cast. For tickets, call (617) 499-6982, or visit www.actorsshakespeareproject.org.

ó Carolyn Clay

Dalí in Philadelphia

As if being the centennial year of George Balanchine, Count Basie, Joan Crawford, Cary Grant, Graham Greene, Dr. Seuss, Fats Waller, and Bloomsday, werenít enough, 2004 also marks the 100th birthday of Salvador Dalí, and as you might expect, a major retrospective has been assembled to celebrate his work. Organized by the Palazzo Grassi in Venice and the Philadelphia Museum of Art in collaboration with the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation in Figueres, Spain, the show will open in Venice, where it will run from September 12 through January 5, and then move to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where it will be up from February 16 through May 15. "Salvador Dalí" is described as "the first comprehensive exhibition to be organized since the artistís death," in 1989, and it promises to "embrace every aspect of his creative life as painter, writer, object maker, designer of ballets and exhibitions, filmmaker, theorist, and publicist." Comprising more than 200 works, including 150 paintings, "the largest number of Dalíís pictures ever to be assembled together," the show will proceed chronologically, from his art-school days in Madrid to his friendships with Federico García Lorca and Luis Buñuel (with whom he collaborated on the films Un chien andalou and Líâge díor) to the epiphany of Gala Éluard and the development of his "Paranoiac-Critical Method" to explore the subconscious. The Philadelphia Museum of Art owns two Dalí paintings, Agnostic Symbol (1932) and Soft Construction with Boiled Beans ó Premonition of Civil War (1936); you can also expect to see such seminal works as Figure at a Window (1925), Little Ashes (1927-í28), William Tell (1930), The Specter of Sex Appeal (1932), Gala and the Angelus of Millet Preceding the Imminent Arrival of the Conical Anamorphoses (1933), The Metamorphosis of Narcissus (1937), The Madonna of Port Lligat (1949), Corpus Hypercubus (1954), and The Hallucinogenic Toreador (1969-í70).

The show will be accompanied by a catalogue in two volumes, one detailing the exhibition itself, the other collecting essays presented at the centennial conference "Persistence and Memory: New Critical Perspectives on Dalí," which was held at the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, this past March. For ticketing and other information, visit the Philadelphia Museum of Artís Web site, www.philamuseum.org.

ó Jeffrey Gantz

Issue Date: August 20 - 26, 2004
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