When most theatre companies are winding down their seasons, Circle in the Square is busier than usual. "Tartuffe, Born Again" is in its first week of previews. John Glover, David Schramm (of TV's "Wings") and Elizabeth Berridge are featured in Freyda Thomas' adaptation o[ the Moliere comedy which has been irreverently transplanted to a New Orleans Televangelist's broadcast studio. On July 25th, Al Pacino returns to Circle to play small time gambler Erie Smith in Eugene O'Neill's "Hughie". And for the first time in its 45 year history, Circle in the Square is hosting a star-studded Benefit Gala.
What's even more amazing is that Circle was at death's door two years ago. Artistic director Theodore Mann Called Josephine Abady, who had just turned the stagnant Cleveland Play House into a vital regional company, to serve as Cirele's Co-Artistic Director. With Mann's retirement after 45 years of service, she is assuming the position of Artistic Director.
I am escorted to Abady's office in the bowels of the Circle in the Square complex at 50th Street and Broadway, probably deeper in the substructure of Manhattan than the E train tracks. During my interview, she will be interrupted with news of theatre and film luminaries' availability for the May 20th gala. Circle alumnus Annette Bening and her husband Warren Beatty are co-chairs for the event.
"We could have done one of those dull banquets with accolade after accolade," Abady tells me, "But we decided to have some fun. So Gerard Alessandrini, who did "Forbidden Broadway' and 'Forbidden Hollywood' is cooking up 'Forbidden Circle' which will roast forty-five years of Circle's productions. There's a whole section devoted to Williams, a whole section on O'Neill. One of my favorite sketches is "The Iceman Dumbeth" which is a lethel combination of "Iceman" and "Moon for the Misbegotten". At one point Josie says to Hickey, 'Hickey, don't.' And Hickey says 'What? Don't drink?' And Josie says 'No, don't launch into another thirty minute monologue.' "
Campbell Scott and Philip Bosco will open the evening with "Brush Up Your Circle". Carole Shelly follows with a devastating jab at "Anna Karenina" to the tune of "The Atcheson, Topkea and the Santa Fe." All cast members are circle in the Square alumni. The all star ensemble company includes Elizabeth Ashley, co-chair Annette Bening, Kate Burton, Tim Daly, Blythe Danner, Ruby Dee, John Glover, Tony Goldwyn, George Grizzard, Harry Hamlin, Rosemary Harris, Dana Ivey, Anne Jackson, Robert Klein, Michael Moriarty, Victoria Tennant, Marlo Thomas, Eli Wallach and Teresa Wright.
At the dinner following the performance, gala patrons will be seated with at least one Hollywood or Broadway star, At press time, scheduled luminaries include Uta Hagen, James Earl Jones, Nathan Lane, Paul Newman, Aiden Quinn, Vanesea Redgrave, Mercedes Ruehl, Susan Sarandon, Treat Williams, Joanne Woodward, co-chair Warren Beatty, Corporate Chair Leslie Moonves (President of CBS Entertainment) as well as the "Forbidden Circle" cast.
Prior to the performance, Circle will auction Theatrical Memorabilia as well as donated designer clothing and jewelry. Guests can bid for a non-speaking part on TV's "Homicide", Nathan Lane's make-up box from "The Bird Cage", an original lithograph of the "Apollo Thirteen" poster signed by Kevin Bacon, an original "Nixon" script signed by Oliver Stone and a lithographed poster of "An American President" autographed by Annette Bening. Designer items from Judith Leiber, Christian Dior, Armani and Carrier will be aveilable for bids starting at a fraction of their retail price.
"I thought that forty-five years as New York's oldest not-for profit theatre and Ted Mann's remarkable record as artistic director were cause for celebration," Abady explains.
"The May 20th gala is very symbolically important. It celebrates our past, but it says we're still here. It celebrates Ted's making this one of America's premier theaters, but it also gets the word out that we're at the forefront of New York theatre doing good work. What's exciting is how many of our fabulous alumni have come through. Not just actors, but writers, directors and designers as well."
What are Abedy's long-range plans for her company?
"l think at a place like Circle, which produces ongoingly, year in, year out, we need to continue to do our best work, the best theatre we cab do. Our job is to produce the best possible theatre in the most exciting way. People who love the theatre or want their children to love it will come to us."
Abady's philosophy seems to be paying off already. Circle's subscription base has quadrupled and box office receipts are much healthier since she came on board.
Circle is offering a mini-subscription for "Tartuffe" and "Hughie". $85 packages for both plays are available either at the box office or by mail to l633 Broadway, New York, NY l00l9. No phone orders will be taken for the mini-subscription; single tickets for "Hughie" will not be available until July.
For further information about gala tickets, call (2l2} 307-2730.Tickets are $l25 *or a the opening cocktail reception, auction and performance of "Forbidden Circle". Gala tickets which include the dinner run $500 or $l000.
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