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‘Angels’ Director Calls Split ‘Amicable’

What’s behind the change in directors of “Angels in America,” Tony Kushner’s two-part epic, as it moves from the Mark Taper Forum to Broadway?

Oskar Eustis commissioned the play when he was at San Francisco’s Eureka Theatre and also directed the Taper production of Part I, “Millennium Approaches,” in 1990. He and Tony Taccone shepherded the just-closed production. But when Part I, “Millennium Approaches,” opens at the Walter Kerr Theatre on April 25, George C. Wolfe will direct.

“This was a difficult decision,” said Kushner, the man who made it. He called the L.A. production “wonderful” and expressed “immense respect” for Eustis’ work.

But finally it came down to “an issue of two different senses of theatricality.” Kushner believes a Wolfe staging will have “a more elegant flow as opposed to a more rambunctious feeling. . . . There’s a level of polish in George’s work that is not important to Oskar.

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“New York is my home town,” Kushner noted. “I have a sense of what I’d like it to be like on a proscenium stage,” which is what the Walter Kerr has, as opposed to the thrust stage at the Taper.

That word-- proscenium --also was mentioned by Gordon Davidson, the boss at Center Theatre Group, which will co-produce the Broadway production with Jujamcyn Theaters, owners of the Walter Kerr.

“Oskar’s contributions, dramaturgically, were unquestioned and unparalleled,” Davidson said, “but (now) we need someone with more experience and a better grasp of the challenge of mounting it on a proscenium stage.”

Eustis, however, disputed the idea that the shape of the stage had anything to do with Kushner’s pick for the director slot; Eustis has directed on proscenium stages. Instead, Eustis said, “for years” he and Kushner “have not completely agreed about what the show should look like, the feel of it, the way it moves. We’ve made every effort to compromise, but the disagreements are too complicated.”

The parting is “very amicable,” Eustis said. He’ll continue to make dramaturgical suggestions as Kushner does rewrites on Part II, “Perestroika,” which will also be at the Walter Kerr, though an exact date hasn’t been set.

Eustis called Wolfe “an exciting choice. It cheered me up. George has a terrifically presentational style, a strong sense of performance and show-biz in the best sense of the word. That’s different from what I do.” He also noted that “George has proven himself able to withstand the enormous pressures” of Broadway.

One of those pressures comes from the powerful New York Times critic Frank Rich. Though he likes “Angels,” he declared the Taper production was “at times stodgy.” But Eustis said his own disagreements with Kushner were brewing long before Rich’s review. The director switch “was not caused by Frank Rich,” Eustis said, “although I hope I don’t meet him in a dark alley.”

The projected budget for the Broadway staging is approximately $1.5 million, Davidson said. CTG is not raising or contributing any of that; Jujamcyn will raise the money. Details of how much of a financial return CTG might get are “still being worked out.”

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Asked why Jujamycn was picked as co-producer over its primary rival, the Shubert Organization, Davidson cited the recent refurbishment of the Walter Kerr, CTG’s “special relationship” with Jujamcyn creative director Jack Viertel--who used to work at the Taper--and the association between Jujamcyn and Wolfe on another CTG-sired project, “Jelly’s Last Jam.”

DONNYBROOK: A fight between An Claidheamh Soluis/Celtic Arts Center and its landlord Robert Barenfeld goes to court Monday, as Barenfeld seeks to evict the Celts.

According to Barenfeld, the center’s leaders don’t pay their rent on time, ignore requests to remove wood from the back of the theater, and are “miserable, mean, horrible people.”

Center officials accuse Barenfeld of “vindictive actions,” “ridiculous demands and/or hostility” and “a long list” of problems regarding the upkeep of the building.

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No matter how the eviction hearing goes, Barenfeld said the center will have to leave anyway by July, when the lease expires, because he won’t sign an extension. He looks forward to leasing the Hollywood Boulevard storefront to “another legitimate theater.”


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