Papp and Shakespeare: Going All the Way With Every Play

Times Theater Critic

Joseph Papp is going to produce the entire canon of Shakespeare plays. Since Papp has been doing Shakespeare since 1952, one wouldn't think that this announcement would stop anybody's presses, but it made headlines in New York, and therefore became national news.

Papp told Reuters that he plans to use "major actors" for his productions--i.e., stars--because it's important that young people connect Shakespeare's plays with faces they recognize from film and TV. The most sought-after role, Papp said, is "Richard III." He's had nibbles from Al Pacino, Richard Dreyfuss, Richard Gere, Christopher Walken and Stacy Keach.

"Richard III" opens Jan. 15 at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, starring Byron Jennings. Jennings is not a star, only a very good actor, and his performance will not make the wires--except, perhaps, Stage Wire.

And that's the frustration of doing theater outside of New York City.

Theater's honored dead in 1987 include Emlyn Williams, Bob Fosse, Charles Ludlam, Michael Bennett, Ed Kleban (who wrote the lyrics for Bennett's "A Chorus Line") and James Baldwin.

Baldwin wrote only a couple of plays, but each came from the same fiery place as his novels. We'll never forget "The Amen Corner" at the Coronet Theatre in 1964, with Beah Richards as a storefront preacher confronting the results of her devotion to an unforgiving God.

Baldwin wrote "Blues for Mister Charlie" for the Actors Studio the same year. And in 1971 the Taper's Marian Barnett dramatized Baldwin's duologue with Margaret Mead, "A Rap on Race." (Roscoe Lee Browne played Baldwin, to Sarah Cunningham's Mead.)

Baldwin is also supposed to have done a play based on his novel, "Giovanni's Room," but it has never been produced. He might have written more for our theater, had it been more of a theater.

Playwright Jon Krizanc isn't complaining about the success that his "Tamara" has had in Toronto ('81), Los Angeles ('84) and, now, New York. But he's bemused at what audiences and critics have made of it.

"People complain about not seeing the whole play," Krizanc told Jon Kaplan in American Theatre magazine. "But that's not the point of the work. I thought the best way to write a critique of fascism was to give the audience more freedom than it ever had. What you learn depends on the choices you make, on whom you follow. The freedom of self-discovery is true democracy.

"I didn't expect that 'Tamara' would be a play about running around a big house. It's not a gimmick; the form is integral to the play's theme. Unfortunately, some people see it as a going-to-the-fair for adults."

American Theatre magazine, by the way, is the closest thing to the old Theatre Arts magazine that we have. It's published 11 times a year by Theatre Communications Group, 355 Lexington Ave., New York, N.Y. 10017. Subscriptions are $27 a year.

IN QUOTES: James Baldwin, in "The Fire Next Time": "The most dangerous creation of any society is that man who has nothing to lose."

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