The Kennedy Center, moving closer to chairman Roger L. Stevens' dream of launching a permanent theater company, has been trying to lure Paul Newman and Robert Redford into a revival of Maxwell Anderson and Laurence Stallings' "What Price Glory?"
That's just one of the projects under consideration for a 36-week, six-play season of American plays Stevens hopes to get under way in December, marking the Center's 10th anniversary. Ralph Allen, brought in to oversee the company's inaugural season, confirmed the Newman-Redford overture yesterday, but said leaks about it might make the package harder to put together.
"We're certainly trying to get Robert Redford or Paul Newman -- either or both," said Allene."And neither has said no." But the Kennedy Center hasn't even secured the rights to the play, he added, and nothing about the coming season has been settled definitely. A major Broadway success in 1924, "What Price Glory?" is a wisecracking, violent portrait of American soldiers in World War I. It has been included in almost every anthology of important American plays, but rarely produced in recent years.
Other stars with whom Stevens and Allen have discussed the coming Eisenhower Theater season include Jason Robards, Jean Stapleton, Cicely Tyson, Joanne Woodward and Jack Lemmon. Robards "certainly will do something," said Allen, mentioning a revival of Eugene O'Neill's "The Iceman Cometh" as the leading possibility.
Stars help "earn the confidence of the people," said Allen, co-creator of the Broadway musicial "Sugar Babies," and, before he came to Washington to work with Stevens, artistic director of a theater attached to the University of Tennessee. "But what we want is really fine actors," he said. "If the fine actors happen to be stars, that's all the better for us."
"I think that a lot of important actors will want to do this," he added, pointing out that a 10-week commitment (for rehearsals and performances) could be easier on a movie or TV actor than the several months required to do a play on Broadway. The company will sign some actors to season-long contracts, according to Allen, who said Anthony Zerbe (Ben in the recently departed production of "The Little Foxes") could be one of them. (The casting process will include auditions in Washington as well as New York, said Allen.)
The company's season will include two new plays, and one of them will probably be the oft-discussed "Terra Nova." Ted Talley's dramatization of Robert Falcon Scott's fatal trip to the South Pole. The other will be chosen from a group of four or five to be given tryout productions, with financial help from the Kennedy Center, at various resident theaters throughout the country.
Allen said he is worried about a shortage of parts for women. "We have a lot of women who want to work for us," he said, "and we don't have plays for them."
With the 1981-82 season, the Kennedy Center is trying to break a pattern of decline in its Theater Guild subscription rolls. Subscriptions dropped nearly 2,000 this season to about 11,500. The season has been split into two parts for subscription purposes, and so far the Center has sent out circulars advertising only season of four booked-in productions to precede the permanent company's hoped-for arrival in December. (But subscribers to this scaled-down season will be given the first shot at tickets for the company's season, according to the circular.)
The four attractions will be Ernest Thompson's "West Side Waltz," with Katharine Hepburn and Dorothy Loudon as energetic spinsters who play the piano and violin respectively; Ronald Harwood's London hit "The Dresser," with Tom Courtenay and the producers hope, Richard Burton in Tom Jones/Harvey Schmidt musical "Colette," with Diana Rigg making her singing debut; and "Kingdoms," a new play by American Edward Sheehan about Napoleon Bonaparte's kidnapping of Pope Pius VII. Roy Dotrice has agreed to do "Kingdoms," and Edward Woodward (who plays the title role in the m ovie "Breaker Morant") is a strong possibility.
"West Side Waltz," sold out a 26-week run on the West Coast a few months ago, and "The Dresser" was voted the best play of the season by the London drama critics.