LONDON — “King Hedley II” has announced a Dec. 11 opening at the Tricycle Theater, the same northwest London venue that hosted the U.K. preems of playwright August Wilson’s “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” (1990), “The Piano Lesson” (1993) and “Two Trains Running” (1996). Rehearsals start Oct. 14 prior to an out-of-town run at the Birmingham Repertory Theater, which is co-producing the play with the Tricycle.
As was the case on the second and third of the Tricycle’s Wilson series, the director will be Paulette Randall, a onetime actress (“2,000 years ago,” she says) born in London to Jamaican parents. That makes Randall one of the few women to have staged a Wilson play, a point, says Randall, of which she likes to remind the dramatist.
“I keep telling August, ‘It’s good for you to have me in your life,’ ” she laughs. “It’s just a different thing for him to do to work with a woman.”
The last time around, Randall had never actually seen a Wilson play, having missed both “Fences” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” in their London runs. But she did catch the American company of the Olivier Award-winning “Jitney” when Marion McClinton’s production visited the National.
Not, she adds, that Wilson ever gave her grief for missing his work. His response, says Randall: “I don’t go to the theater that much, either.”
The Tricycle’s current play, Carlo Gebler’s “10 Rounds,” was inspired by Schnitzler’s “La Ronde,” and so, clearly, is the Soho Theater Co.’s latest tenant, “Modern Dance for Beginners,” by “EastEnders” scribe Sarah Phelps.
The trick here is the way the various sexual duos link up: the wife much talked about but never seen in the first vignette takes center-stage in the second, while the corporate type hovering offstage in the third scene eventually appears in the fifth, and so on.
The dispiriting point is one not of connection but, we’re told, “just anti-connection” — as the similarly Schnitzler-bred “The Blue Room” made clear four years ago. Phelps’ play, though, allows a rare female perspective on territory long demarcated by men (and often described in the English press as “blokish”). Indeed, if you didn’t know the gender of the author, you might assume the playwright to be not only male but faintly misogynistic: In scene after scene, the woman emerges as the angrier and more predatory of the pair, while the men are seen lacing their sexual athleticism with a wounded innocence.
If the aggression of the writing is a bit much (at times, Phelps’ seems determined to out- “Closer” Patrick Marber when it comes to dramatizing the sex wars), you can’t fault the vigor of Jonathan Lloyd’s direction and his two performers, both of whom play four roles. Nicola Walker continues to be one of the London theater’s more coiled presences, while colleague Justin Salinger (late of “Privates on Parade”) among its more sad-eyed and appealing. The play may come down with affectless predictability on the side of simply “carrying on,” but at least it has players who carry us along with it.
Admirers of political satire — and anyone keen on theater shot through with real passion — owe themselves an evening with Pieter-Dirk Uys, the South African entertainer who is finally taking his message to the U.S.
June 2001 saw the London preem of “Foreign Aids,” the solo show that found the now 57-year-old Uys (pronounced “Ace”) at his wittiest and most scathing. His topic: a nation’s ongoing disinterest in one virus, AIDS, which has displaced another, apartheid, and continues to result back home in 3,000 deaths a day. (In South Africa, says Uys, 40% of the workforce is thought to be HIV-positive.)
Uys will perform “Foreign Aids” Oct. 2 on the Williams College campus in Williamstown, Mass. (his Dame Edna-esque alter ego, Evita Bezuidenhout, is apparently taught in gender studies courses there), followed by an Oct. 10 stand at NYU with UCLA to follow. On Oct 29, he begins a three-week Australian season at the Sydney Opera House.
If the message remains constant, the show, says Uys, gets adapted to suit the place he’s in. “I change it virtually on a daily basis,” he says, looking ahead to America. “I’ll have my eye on that son of a Bush.”