Westport packs 'em in with crowded '08 slate


NEW YORK -- Now that Joanne Woodward and Anne Keefe are back in charge at the Westport Country Playhouse -- both had taken a sabbatical -- things are looking up again for the 78th season of the legendary playhouse in Connecticut. Besides Paul Newman directing a fall production of John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" scheduled for Oct. 7-25, the 2008 slate also will include Timothy Busfield ("The West Wing") in Morris Panych's new play, "Vigil," directed by Stephen DiMenna, which will open the Westport season Feb. 19-March 15. That will be followed by a production of Alan Ayckbourn's comedy "Time of My Life," with Paxton Whitehead and directed by John Tillinger (April 1-26); then Craig Wright's play "The Pavilion," directed by Chad Rabinovitz (May 13-31); the musical revue "Hot 'n' Cole: A Cole Porter Celebration," devised by David Armstrong, Mark Waldrop and Bruce W. Coule (June 10-28); David Wiltse's comedy "Scramble!" directed by Tracey Brigden (July 8-28); and Karoline Leach's thriller "Tryst," with Mark Shanahan and directed by Joe Brancato (Aug. 5-23), with other plays to be announced. This famous theater was launched in 1931 by the Theatre Guild's Lawrence Langner and his wife, Armina Marshall, using a site that had been built in the 1830s as a cow barn and has since become one of the East Coast's most famous summer theaters. Spearheaded by Woodward and Keefe, it underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation three years ago and is now not only state-of-the-art, gleaming, infinitely more comfortable and certainly more ambitious but also has switched to a policy making it open year-round. ... This is the week Oscar invades New York big time: On Friday, 50 shiny new Academy Award statuettes will go on display for public oohhing and aahhing at ABC's Times Square Studios, part of an exhibition that's free to the public where Oscars can be seen up close and personal from noon-7 p.m. through Feb. 23. A similar event was held last year at the same site and enjoyed massive success; equally big crowds are expected this time around. Besides the sight of those four dozen-plus golden boys all standing together, visitors also will be able to have a look at the Oscar awarded to Gary Cooper for 1941's "Sergeant York" (presented by Jimmy Stewart to Cooper in early 1942 while America, and Hollywood, was still reeling from its recent entry into World War II), as well as the one awarded just last year to Thelma Schoonmaker for her editing on Martin Scorsese's "The Departed." For an added treat, there also will be an Oscar that visitors can hold while having their picture snapped. (Guests do have to bring their own cameras.) The Schoonmaker Oscar comes courtesy of Thelma herself; Cooper's Oscar is courtesy of his daughter, Maria Cooper Janis, who also is the niece of the man who created the original Oscar statuette design back in 1927, legendary art director Cedric Gibbons. (For the record, there is a similar "Meet the Oscars" display going on in Hollywood in the Kodak Theatre; the 50 Oscars there are the ones that will presented this year on Oscar night, Feb. 24.) ... Meanwhile, Friday on the big screen at the Directors Guild Theatre on West 57th, New Yorkers will get the chance to see all 10 of this year's Oscar nominees in the two short subject divisions, both animated and live action, leaving a little breathing room before having to mark their ballots in the office pool. It's the fifth year such a screening has been presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in the Big Apple before Academy Awards night.