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WTF's Nikos Stage Plays for 2005

By Elyse Sommer

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With the expanded seating capacity tickets to the Nikos Stage plays are much more readily available this season. Although the plays continue not to be open for review, we will post enough details about what they're about, who's performing and pictures (Most recently seen play and information update at the top). Many of these productions move on to New York productions, sometimes with the same cast and only minor changes. For example, Rodney's Wife which I saw but didn't review in Williamstown, then saw again and did review at Playwright's Horizon, had only one cast change. Terence McNally's Dedication or The Stuff of Dreams is getting ready to open at Primary Stages in New York, with all the cast members except Marian Seldes changed. Michael John La Chiusa's R Shomon is headed to the Public Theater. It has been retitled See What I Want to See and as at Williamstown, Ted Sperling will once again direct. Henry Stram and Mary Testa will reprise their multiple roles (he as janitor/priest; she as Medium/Aunt). The roles played by Audra McDonald and Tom Wopat will be played by Idina Menzel and Mrc Kudisch who should fit these parts well. Theresa Rebeck's Water's Edge will be mounted at Second Stage during Fall 2006.

A word about the venue. The re-designed Adams Memorial Theater that's now home to Nikos Stage productions is sleek, modern and comfortable. All but a few side loge seats are part of a centeral orchestra section with stadium seating for perfect sightlines wherever you sit. The red seats and girders are strikingly contrasted by black walls and steel-gray carpeting. It's all sleek and modern. The theater is directly attached to the Main Stage, which allows both theaters to share the bathrooms (hurrah, there are enough stalls, even in the ladies room -- to avoid lines). The stage is larger and it will be interesting to see how it is used for each of the shows in this first season. (Watch for our feature on the new venues later in the season.

Tough  Titty
Shona Tucker as Angela & Paul Kreppel as Dr. Pearlman and Shona Tucker in Tough Titty. (Photo: Richard Feldman)
Playwright: Oni Faida Lampley
Directed by Charles Randolph-Wright
August 10 to August 21, 2005
Favorite quote: Right now is the only miracle you get. --- Angela
Cast: Quincy Tyler Bernstine (Imani and Ensemble), Peter Jay Fernandez (Shaka), Michelle Hurst (Sheila and Ensemble), Paul Kreppel (Dr. Pearlman and Ensemble), Antoinette LaVecchia (St. Agatha),Christine Toy Johnson (Dr. Rachel Li and Ensemble), Shona Tucker (Angela/ Angie)
Sets: Michael Carnahan
Costumes: Toni-Leslie James
Lights: Michael Gilliam
Sound: Nick Borisjuk
What it's about: Angela, a thirty-seven-year-old breast-feeding mother of two, receives a startling breast cancer diagnosis. The play explores the toll taken on her family, especially on her marriage, through recurrences and the rigors of treatment. What happens when you donít die and you don't get better? As cancer forces her to step outside of her community for help, a multi-cultural cast of characters emerges to push her through the journey, including a Chinese-Jewish oncologist who excites in her a thirst for Yiddish. Angela learns to relinquish her ideas of how life is "supposed" to go, ask for what she needs, and accept the love and limitations of friends, family, medicine, and herself. I'll leave it to you to decide whether this can really be the funny, constructive engagement with the incurable uncertainty of life promised by the advance promo?

As Lampley refuses to confine the subject of cancer to the genre of tragedy, so the the casting which has actors doubling as black, white, Asian and Jewish characters breaks down the barriers as to role assignments.
Sugar Syndrome
Gaby Hoffman as Dani and Patch Darragh as Lewis in The Sugar Syndrome (Photo: Richard Feldman)

Playwright: Lucy Prebble
Director: Maria Mileaf
Cast: Betsy Aidem (Jan), Patch Darragh (Lewis), Gaby Hoffmann (Dani), Tim Hopper (Tim) and Erin Felgar as the Voice of the Internet
Sets: Takeshi Kata
Costumes: Katherine Rosh Lights: Nicole Pearce
Sound: Nick Borisjuk
July 27 to August 7, 2005
What it’s about: While the non-reviewable policy for Nikos productions is to make it possible for new plays to be nourished in a non-judgmental nvironment, The Sugar Syndrome, arrives in Williamstown on quite a wave of positive buzz about it's author as the latest young British playwright with a distinctive voice.

The play's premiere at the Royal Court two years ago (when Prebble was just twenty-two), garnered numerous prestigious prize nominations and many positive reviews, including one from CurtainUp's chief London critic Lizzie Loveridge (the review ). The Nikos production has a different cast and director than the one Lizzie reviewed, but I knew enough of their past work -- especially director Maria Mileaf's and Betsy Aydem's and Tim Hopper's -- to know that this American production had been put into good hands.

Besides reading our review of the Royal Court premiere production, the best key to what the young playwright attempted to do with this play can be found in her own comments to WTF dramaturge Kirsten Bowen that are included in the program . At the time that she decided to tackle her first full-length play, there was a lot of tabloid coverage of child abuse which set Prebble to thinking "about humanizing a child abuser and making him a generally 'nice' person." At the same time she wanted to write about a young girl with an eating disorder "who was not the utter victim we are led to believ.". The two subjects led her to "constructing some sort of play about a relationship between these two people who feel mistreated but have to learn to be personally responsible." Research naturally included some time spent in cyber room chat rooms.

I'll leave it to you to decide whether the idea of a mixed-up seventeen- year-old recovering bulimic (Gaby Hoffman) and a thirty-three-year-old "generally nice" pedophile(Tim Hopper) makes for an absorbing and believable play -- and to find out how another young man met in a chatroom (Patch Darragh) and the girl's ineffectual mother fit into the drama.

In case you're curious about the title: it's a reference to people who during World War II spent their rationing coupins on nerve soothing sweets instead of the healthier meat and eggs. A metaphor for some of these characters' actions? What do you think?

Create Fate
Sarah Chalke & Michael Chernus in Create Fate (Photo: Richard Feldman)
Playwright: Etan Frankel
Director: Christopher Ashley
Cast: Sarah Chalke (Maria), Michael Chernus (Nathan) and John Bedford Lloyd (Fuller)
Set Design: Michael Carnahan
Costume Design: David Zinn
( (lights) and(sound).
Lighting Designer: Charles Foster
Sound Design: Acme Sound Partners
July 13 to July 24, 2005 Running Time: Approx. 2 hours, including one intermission

John Bedford Lloyd
John Bedford Lloyd in Create Fate (Photo: Richard Feldman)
WHAT TO EXPECT: The presence of Joe Pantoliano in the cast was a big draw for Soprano fans. However, when Pantoliano had to withdraw he was replaced by a top caliber actor, John Bedford Lloyd, a seasoned actor and WTF veteran (he was outstanding in the WTF production of The Rainmaker which ended up moving to Broadway). The other two actors are unfamiliar to me but come to their roles with solid credentials. With Christopher Ashley in charge you can expect this quirky romance to play out without a let-up in the pace.

What it's about: I called it a romance and indeed it is, though with the "matchmaker" a mysterious, gangster-like man named Fuller (Lloyd) there's a dash of mystery to add a piquant note to the nebbish Nathan's (Chernus) quest to win the heart of a redhead (Chalke) who's unlikely to go for a fat, greasy-haired young man even if he is wealthy enough (via the Internet) to own eighteen circa 1960s muscle cars. During the intermission, I overheard one audience member declare " I'm up for a happy ending." Even if I were reviewing the play I would leave you to find out for yourself if he got his wish and just how and to answer for yourself the questions raised by playwright Etan Frankel: When is true love a product of fate, and when is it just a set of well-choreographed accidents? In case the latter is the case , can Fuller's organization from which the play takes its title choreograph fate or as Fuller puts it, "we screw in the light bulb -- you provide the electricity."

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