Days of our ‘Youth’

LONDON — This is beginning to look like everyone’s youth.

How else to explain the dizzying array of casting prospects for the late-autumn return to the West End of Kenneth Lonergan’s “This Is Our Youth,” the tragicomic portrait of dysfunctional Manhattanites ca. 1982 that has already seen two starry trios come and go from the Garrick Theater this spring.

Still, however potent the combos of Jake Gyllenhaal and Hayden Christensen and then Casey Affleck and Matt Damon, those male pairings can’t begin to compete with one double-act co-producer Clare Lawrence is flirting with for the fall — Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire. (The actress who would join them is as yet unnamed.)

Leo knows “Youth” scribe Lonergan from the latter’s screenwriting chores on thesp’s upcoming “Gangs of New York,” while filmdom’s current Spider-man happens to be a close friend of “Titanic’s” main man. Although nothing is by any means signed, Lawrence hopes to have things firmed up one way or another within the month, admitting the DiCaprio-Maguire duo “is about as starry as it gets.”

They’re hardly alone among celebs being talked up for a play that has already seen numerous notables in the audience busily assessing those onstage. Joaquin Phoenix saw the play several times while sister Summer was in it, and Natalie Portman, Jude Law and “Queer as Folk” lead Charlie Hunnam are among other young names who have been in.

As regards Law and Hunnam, Lawrence sees no reason why local British talent — carefully chosen — couldn’t take on the roles perfectly well. To that end, “Black Hawk Down’s” Orlando Bloom and “Harry Potter” supporting player Sean Biggerstaff are also in the frame.

Back on the American front, there’s Michael Pitt, Ryan Gosling, Kieran Culkin, James Franco (TV’s recent James Dean): The list of possibles goes on and on, with Lawrence well aware that the play can showcase a rising talent — Gyllenhaal remains a prime example — just as easily as an established, Damon-style star: “It’s nice to have a look at these guys before they become untouchable.”

Still, one takes heart from Lawrence’s belief amid the starcatching that Lonergan’s 1996 tragicomedy remain the thing. There’s little to be gained, she says, “from casting stars rather than starting with the source material. You have to start with the play, or there’s no point.”

‘Via’ re-visited

The four years (nearly) since its Royal Court preem can only have intensified interest in “Via Dolorosa,” actor-writer David Hare’s searching solo account of the Middle East that has returned to London just in time to shed light on an ever more sorrowful and fractious region.

Since it last played London, the play transferred successfully to Broadway, Australia, and a recent one-off performance in Oxford, following which, Hare reports, director Stephen Daldry told current co-producer Thelma Holt, “We’ve got to get this back on straight away.” (In the intervening years, Hare and Daldry have collaborated on “The Hours,” the star-laden film of the Michael Cunningham novel due out in December to join the queue, presumably, for Oscars.)

On this occasion, Hare will be working within the commercial glare of the West End for a six-week run that opened July 18 at the Duchess. No matter, says the author-turned-thesp, admitting his ongoing attraction to “a subject I seem unable to put away. Normally, with a playwright, crudely speaking, you exploit a subject and you move on; I don’t go back to church.” (The reference there is to Hare’s 1990 play “Racing Demon.”)

“I do go back to the Middle East,” he says of an area he has revisited twice in the last two years. Why? Something, Hare says, “is unresolved, both there and, quite clearly, within me.”

Kiss ‘Kate’ goodbye

“Kiss Me, Kate” gets the London kiss-off Aug. 24, ending one of the more curious West End runs for any major show of late. The Broadway import opened last fall to near-ecstatic reviews and three or four months of good business, but went on to be blanked at the Olivier Awards in February (despite nine nominations) and then to watch business trail off.

Co-producer Roger Berlind told Variety July 15 that he expects the production at the Victoria Palace will end up paying back “less than half” of its £3.5 ($5.25) million capitalization. That compares particularly badly with a Broadway run that recouped its $5.8 million costs within eight months and went on to earn another $5 million profit. The American tour fell between both scenarios, “just about breaking even,” Berlind says.

The producer notes he is “0-for-2” now with his London musicals, having flopped a decade ago at the Prince of Wales with “City of Angels,” a second Broadway Tony winner that also got local raves. How can that be? Sighs Berlind: “I wish I had a clue.”

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