Chekhov’s ‘Orchard’ not ripe for B’way

Equity rejects proposal to put piece in repertory

While Mike Nichols’ celeb-packed staging of “The Seagull” looks to move from Central Park to the Lyceum Theater in autumn, another starry production of a Chekhov classic will not be making its expected transatlantic transfer to Broadway this season.

Manny Kladitis, executive producer at Tony Randall’s National Actors Theater, confirmed that “The Cherry Orchard,” starring Vanessa Redgrave and directed by Trevor Nunn at London’s Royal National Theater, won’t play Gotham.

Kladitis attempted to bring the production here under Actors’ Equity unit-company rule. The thesp union, however, has rejected his proposal to put “The Cherry Orchard” in repertory with Neil Bartlett’s stage adaptation of “De Profundis” by Oscar Wilde.

Under the unit-company rule, a legit org must offer at least two of its productions in repertory with an equal number of performances of each show. Kladitis proposed six perfs a week of “The Cherry Orchard” and two perfs of “De Profundis,” a two-person play that was to have featured Vanessa Redgrave and her brother, Corin Redgrave, last seen on Broadway in Tennessee Williams’ “Not About Nightingales.” Equity rejected the 6-2 split despite an offer from Kladitis that the Brit production would hire an extra American stage manager and four American understudies. The thesp union covers stage managers as well as actors.

“No good deed goes unpunished,” said Alan Eisenberg, exec director of Actors’ Equity. “Tony Randall has provided much employment to American actors through his theater company, but we felt (this concession) would be cited against us in future negotiations.” He also said the proposed engagement of the Chekhov came at a “sticky time. In the spring there will be a great crunch for Broadway theaters and it seems a realistic possibility that it would take employment away from American actors who could otherwise use that theater.”

Last spring, attempts were made to bring the RNT’s “Cherry Orchard” to the United States under Equity’s exchange program with British Equity, which requires that an equal number of American actors be employed on the U.K. stage for English thesps hired here. (Exceptions are made for star actors such as Vanessa Redgrave.) Those negotiations also failed.

According to Equity, there are currently two and a half times as many jobs due American actors working in Britain as Brits appearing here.

Pickets on the road

Equity also is showing its muscle on the road. On Wednesday, the union announced its boycott of the upcoming national tour of “The Music Man,” to open in October in Des Moines, Iowa, with other cities to follow. Equity is planning protests at various venues along the tour route and the union has called on AFL-CIO affiliates and other labor organizations to participate, with the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists reportedly already on board.

In a written statement, Eisenberg said the tour’s producers, Big League Theatricals, had rejected the union’s offers of a contract and will produce the show with non-union actors.

The practice is not unusual for musicals that have an extended track-record on the road but is considered rare, if not unprecedented, for a major Broadway show just out of the gate.

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