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stage dive

Stage Dive: Theater Critic Scott Brown’s Ten Most Anticipated Productions

The Pee-Wee Herman Show at Sondheim Theater

Yesterday I did my introductions, and now, to give you a more topical and concrete idea of where I stand on theater, here are ten big moments I'm looking forward to in the 2010–11 season — just a little stone soup to amuse your bouche. Feel free to throw in your own entries in the comments below, and soon we'll have ourselves a chunky, Lupone-infused gumbo, the aroma of which will suffuse Vulture for days. Passersby who dropped in looking for mere Bieber-bites will sniff the air and ask, “What’s that smell?” And we’ll smile and say: theater!  

And so, without any further ado/horrible soup imagery, here’s my quick can’t-wait list:

1. Bring a snack, old sport: Six and a half hours with Jay Gatsby.
“There are no second acts in American lives,” declared F. Scott Fitzgerald, tragically unable to foresee the day when American lives would include two intermissions and a dinner break. Those are the only breathers you will get over the epic span of Gatz, an already-mythic, six-and-a-half-hour “re-creation” of The Great Gatsby from the fearless downtown theater collective Elevator Repair Service (and their hosts at the Public Theater). Unlike, say, The Coast of Utopia, there’s no subdividing this into separate evenings: The show’s backbone is a torrential, real-time recitation of the American Ur-novel — unabridged — by an office drone so bewitched by the story, he steadily pulls his whole dreary workplace into a literary phantasmagoria. As for the audience members it will draw, you'd best think of them as the theater-scene equivalent of jam-band pilgrims. Utopians, Rose Ragers, Orestei-heads: This is our moment. Bring the Economy-Pak Twizzlers.

2. Logical, yet unsettling: Zachary Quinto in Angels in America.
Hey, is it just me, or does having not one, but two Star Trek franchise players on Broadway (Zachary Quinto and Patrick Stewart) kinda send a silvery thrill through the old dilithium crystals? But all geeky intertextuality aside: Quinto, with his long predator’s build and that low ceiling of cloudy malevolence that rolls in without warning, is going to be an entirely new species of Louis Ironson, Angels in America's wonderfully compelling, faultlessly progressive, quintessentially American coward/hypocrite, a guy who abandons his dying lover even as he lectures his new beau, a closeted Mormon lawyer (Bill Heck), on the social contract. The most widely seen Louis, created for the HBO mini-series by the very fine Ben Shenkman, was a shifty closet narcissist who tended his self-absorption discreetly, like some delicate night orchid. He was more flight than fight. But we're used to seeing Quinto own, even relish, his capacity to hurt others; it'll be interesting to watch him try to evade it. I can only imagine he’ll build an entirely new dramatic ecology around Louis. And Angels is such a massive dramatic ecosystem: imagine the impact. It will be like releasing a snakehead into a big, dreamy lake.

3. The odd couple: Brendan Fraser and Denis O’Hare in Elling.
I missed the well-regarded Norwegian film-comedy Elling back in 2001, just as I've missed so many well-regarded Norwegian film comedies over the years. (Luckily, it's insta-stream-able on Netflix.) It's about a pair of charming mental patients — the cripplingly neurotic mama's boy of the title and a horny fortysomething man-child flash-frozen at age 14 — thrown together as Oscar-and-Felix roommates. When I saw the cast list for this limited-run stage version (which also includes the marvelous Jennifer Coolidge), I wasn't entirely sure who would play whom: Fraser the oafish man-child and O'Hare the fluttery mama's boy, right? (Right. But I could see an argument for True West–ing this.) I think Fraser's underrated and underused. In his Broadway debut, he'll get a chance to act opposite something other than a green-screen full of invisible mummies, something that bites back — as sweet-and-snarly O'Hare most certainly does, bless his vampire bones.

4. The oddest couple? Mark Rylance and David Hyde Pierce in La Bête.
The actor-on-actor violence continues with La Bête, starring Rylance as a louche street clown named Valere, who rivals and bedevils David Hyde Pierce's persnickety, classically trained Ac-tor in this revived meta-Molière contraption. I've wanted more Rylance in my diet ever since seeing his schlump-on-the-make in the toothsome and irrelevant Franco-American candy platter that was Boeing Boeing. Now he's at the center of yet another sui generis Gallic/Anglo mash-up, and once again, he'll be directed by Matthew Warchus, the divine watchmaker who built Boeing and God of Carnage.

5. Patrick Stewart doing Mamet's A Life in the Theatre.
The platinum-piped Stewart, for reasons both laryngeal and talent-related, is often cast as an authority figure, you may have noticed. He’s been at the helm of a starship, of Denmark, of a school for troubled mutants, etc. Yet his greatest strength as an actor might be his remarkable vulnerability, the tender pinkish humanity peeking between the chinks in that formidable vocal armor. I can’t wait to watch him play an aging, molting stage peacock in David Mamet’s merciless meta-theatrical comedy. I’m gonna puddle up, I just know it, in a way I haven’t puddled since Picard was abducted by the Borg.

6. Sutton Foster singing "I Get a Kick Out of You" in Anything Goes.
Does this really need explaining?

7. The still-controversial stage rituals of Pee-wee Herman.
Few philosophers have the intellectual courage to ask the ultimate question: I know you are, but what am I? In this regard and many others, Pee-wee Herman is a huge improvement on Descartes. Deep thoughts aside (and they will be, I guarantee), as I watch The Pee-wee Herman Show on Broadway, the nostalgist in me will be checking off my list of his old-time eighties refrains, from the "Secret Word" (please let it be "Marin Mazzie"! I want to hear that used in a sentence!) to Jambi the Genie's magic incantation, "mecca lecca hi, mecca hiney ho" — the mere utterance of which, in this political climate, could stoke a firestorm from Kandahar to Gainesville.

8. Divas live! The luminaries in David Yazbeck's Women on the Verge-ical.
Sherie Rene Scott, Patti Lupone, Laura Benanti, and Brian Stokes Mitchell — it's like Broadway's version of an Altman scrum. Douse this assemblage in Almodóvarian madness, light a match, and stuff's gonna 'splode.

9. Teller. Thriller. Killer.
The less chatty half of famed alt-magic duo Penn and Teller has co-written a one-man stage thriller called Play Dead. It will be performed by its other author, the fearless, post-carny showman Todd Robbins
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=syGs46oXu0A, who will
explore “themes of death, darkness and deception.” I've watched Teller take a bullet to the face and bedeck Ann Curry with giant cockroaches, so I'd be there even if he were reading Senate transcripts. But a one-man thriller/mystery, starring a circus geek who eats lightbulbs? That's just the right amount of snuff-film street-cred for me.

10. The Future Lillian Hellman.
Because of the pesky linearity of time, I can't look forward to Elizabeth Marvel in Ivo van Hove's hotly anticipated production of The Little Foxes since I saw it two nights ago and will post a review later today. So help me out here: What are you looking forward to this season?

Photo: Ed Kreiger