rambling reporter

Coast clear for Part 3 of Stoppard's 'Utopia'

There's all sorts of new theater activity in the Apple this week, starting with prevues beginning tonight on Part 3 of Tom Stoppard's "The Coast of Utopia" marathon at the Vivien Beaumont (official opening: Feb. 18) with its cast of 44, directed by Jack O'Brien. I'm opting to see all three parts of this epic in one swoop, on April 21, one of the few dates it will be performed that way. (Showtimes will be 11 a.m., 3:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., with time for meal breaks, making it one of those "Nicholas Nickleby"-"Kentucky Cycle"-"Angels in America" kind of theater experiences that, when they captivate you, can't be matched.) Not to digress, but one of my greatest memories of that kind of marathon playgoing was seeing a 1963 Broadway production of Eugene O'Neill's "Strange Interlude," which ran about six hours, with a break midway for dinner. It boasted an incredible cast, headed by Geraldine Page, Ben Gazzara, Jane Fonda, Franchot Tone, Pat Hingle, William Prince, Betty Field, Geoffrey Horne and Richard Thomas. Those hours flew by like seconds. That was a time I didn't live in New York, nor traveled here often, and within a five-day visit I had six theater experiences I still remember vividly, not only "Interlude" (or as Vera Charles calls it in the play version of "Auntie Mame": "Strange Intercourse") but also Robert Morse in "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying"; Vivien Leigh in "Tovarich"; Sid Caesar in "Little Me"; Uta Hagen, Arthur Hill and Ben Piazza in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"; and Liza Minnelli and Christopher Walken off-Broadway at a little theater called Stage 73 in "Best Foot Forward." I've been hopelessly stagestruck ever since. … Also starting the prevue process off-Broadway tonight: Oren Safdie's new play "The Last Word …" at the Theatre at St. Clement's, bringing Daniel J. Travanti of TV's "Hill Street Blues" back to the theatrical fold. It opens Feb. 8. … Opening tonight: Peter Weller as the famed Frank Lloyd Wright in Richard Nelson's "Frank's Home," off-Broadway at Playwright's Horizons, also with Harris Yulin, directed by Robert Falls. … Prevues begin Wednesday on two off-Broadwayers: Harley Granville Barker's "The Madras House" at the Mint Theater, directed by Gus Kaikkonen, and Courtney Baron's "A Very Common Procedure" at the Lucille Lortel, via the Manhattan Theatre Club, directed by Michael Greif of "Rent" fame. (It had its world premiere in March at San Francisco's Magic Theatre under another title, "Morbidity & Mortality.") Things keep hoppin' on Thursday, with prevues beginning at the Vineyard Theatre on J.M. Barrie's "Mary Rose," directed by Tina Landau. The big news of that night, however, is the return to the boards of the great Zoe Caldwell (a Tony winner in 1966, 1968, 1982 and 1996), opening in the off-Broadway "A Spanish Play" by Yasmina Reza at the Classic Stage Company with a cast that includes Denis O'Hare, Katherine Borowitz, Linda Emond and Larry Pine, directed by John Turturro. … Congratulations to Charles Lane, who turned 102 on Friday. He's the oldest member in SAG, is still toiling (he worked in a holiday short, "The Night Before Christmas," in December, knocking it out in one take) and, a nice birthday gift, is the subject of a documentary that will be out this year titled "You Know the Face," produced by Garret Boyajian and George Ridjaneck of GAB Entertainment. If you don't know the name, you definitely will recognize the face in a flash.