Shakespeare Theatre Company’s 2012-13 season will no longer include “Man and Superman,” the George Bernard Shaw play that was to be directed by Aaron Posner. In its place will be Eugene O’Neill’s “Hughie,” starring Richard Schiff and directed by Doug Hughes.
“Man and Superman” was swapped out, STC Artistic Director Michael Kahn said, partly because of timing — the slot occupied by “Man and Superman” was the only window that worked for Schiff and Hughes — and because “Hughie” “is also cheaper,” said Kahn, as “Man and Superman” would require an eight-person cast. “Of course, that’s a factor in these difficult times.”
Although Posner said that “as an enthusiast of great theater in D.C., I’m excited” for “Hughie,” he didn’t exactly volunteer as tribute; he got a call from Kahn telling him “Man and Superman” was bumped because of finances and timing.
“I knew they were going to do something smaller and more affordable,” Posner said. “And I hope ‘Hughie’ goes fabulously well so they have money to bring me and ‘Man and Superman’ back in.”
“Hughie,” a two-person play set in a hotel lobby in New York, revolves around Erie Smith, a small-time hustler, and Charlie Hughes, the hotel’s new night clerk, as they have one of those O’Neill conversations about one thing but that is really about something else. Schiff will play Smith. The role of Charlie Hughes has yet to be cast.
Posner said he understands STC’s rationale. “They’re a very savvy organization. They’re right to not cheapen [“Man and Superman”] down to the absolute bare minimum. You don’t want it to be nickel-and-dimed down. . . . If you’re going to do things, you want to do them right.
“They’ve dealt with me above the board in every step. I don’t know the folks at Shakespeare very well, but I am positive they are doing the difficult math that everybody is doing. No one wants to make a decision and change their mind late in the season. . . . They seemed genuinely enthusiastic” about “Man and Superman.”
Schiff (who was born in Bethesda; hey, Maryland!) is best known to the nostalgic TV-viewer as Toby Ziegler from “The West Wing” and, in an on-theme move, will be seen as Dr. Emil Hamilton in the upcoming Superman reboot, “Man of Steel.” Hughes, a Tony Award winner, previously directed “The Little Foxes” at STC and “Doubt” on Broadway.
Kahn, a “great admirer of Richard Schiff’s,” sought Schiff out for last year’s “The Merchant of Venice.” Schiff was unavailable because of scheduling conflicts.
Even without “Man and Superman” on his docket, Posner has a packed season in Washington coming up: He’s directing “The Conference of the Birds” at Folger Theatre and “Crimes of the Heart” at Signature Theatre, and has a new play, “Stupid . . . Bird,” that will be directed by Howard Shalwitz at Woolly Mammoth.
“Hughie” will run at the Lansburgh Theatre from Jan. 31 to March 17.
Because people are always saying “literally” when they mean “figuratively,” (e.g., “That literally blew my mind!” says someone with an intact skull), here at Backstage we want to take literally literally. So this week, we are literally going backstage at Studio Theatre.
Over at the Studio Lab, whose inaugural project was last year’s “Lungs” by Duncan Macmillan, a week-long workshop of Bryony Lavery’s “Dirt” just wrapped up. The play, which will have its world premiere next season, stars Holly Twyford — last seen at Studio with a battle-scarred face in “Time Stands Still” — and will be directed by David Muse, Studio’s artistic director.
For the five-day workshop, the British Lavery, fueled by equal parts passion and jet lag, would write all morning and collaborate with Muse and the cast in the afternoons.
The result: “In addition to creating two new characters, more or less from scratch, I’d say from this point she’s rewritten about 50 percent of the play,” Muse said.
Although Muse said he was a bit surprised by “the extent of the reworking,” he also contended that the whole point of the lab is to allow for that kind of overhaul to take place.
“It’s actually part of the fun,” he said. “If I’m going to call this thing a lab and really commit to the idea of that, that means I’m creating a space where new projects can grow and be developed, where ideas that are still in their incubation period can reach fruition.”
When Muse read Lavery’s original script, he said, “There was a kernel of a terrific play in there and there were some scenes that were really on fire,” though both Lavery and Muse agreed that, structurally, there was much work to be done.
Muse has collaborated with Lavery before, directing her best-known play, “Frozen,” at Studio 2ndStage during the 2005-06 season. “I’d say that was one of my favorite projects of the last decade,” he said.
Rehearsals for “Dirt” begin Sept. 17. Lavery will be on hand for the first and final weeks and possibly make a cameo at another point during the four-week stretch. Performances begin Oct. 17.
In other Studio Theatre news, “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” will be extended through Aug. 19.