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Shakespeare’s Signature

One of New York’s important but homeless theater companies is homeless no more. The Signature Theater Company – which devotes each season to the work of a single playwright (and which demonstrated uncanny prescience by featuring Edward Albee the year he won the Pulitzer Prize for drama and Horton Foote the year he won) – will spend the upcoming season in the New York Shakespeare Festival’s smallest space, the Susan Stein Shiva Theater.

The company, headed by artistic director James Houghton, still has to complete some fundraising required by the festival. But at this point, all of the participants expect the residency to happen. In bringing the Signature into the Shakespeare Festival fold, producer George C. Wolfe carries on a tradition established by his predecessor, Joseph Papp, who made the Public Theater a safe haven for endangered companies and a huge family of theater artists – including playwright Adrienne Kennedy, whose work, not coincidentally, will be the subject of the Signature’s fifth season.

This marks the first time the Signature has put the spotlight on a woman playwright. Kennedy was a prominent figure in the black theater of the ’60s – her best-known works are “Funnyhouse of a Negro,” “The Owl Answers” and “A Rat’s Mass” – who has rarely been heard from since. The Signature season at the Public will begin Sept. 22 with a twin bill of “Funnyhouse,” staged by Christine Jackson-Smith, and “A Movie Star Has to Star in Black and White,” staged by Joseph Chaikin.

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