LONDON — Let’s put it this way: Who isn’t on the short list for an upcoming West End spin in “This Is Our Youth”? The Kenneth Lonergan play looks set to take over where long-runner “Art” — entering its 28th and final West End cast — left off.
Lonergan’s play resumes perfs Nov. 13 at the Garrick, the same venue where it starred two different trios of Hollywood heavy-hitters (two Oscar winners included) this past spring. The plan now is to rotate name casts in and out indefinitely, as “Art” has been doing (for somewhat longer runs) for years. First off the mat is the intriguing trio of Colin Hanks, Kieran Culkin and white-hot “White Oleander” star Alison Lohman, who open to the press Nov. 20 for a run through Jan. 11.
Speaking from New York, co-producer Anna Waterhouse offers a verbal deluge of young thesps of varying degrees of fame, all of whom want to be part of what seems to have become a cool (in industry circles) pathway to West End success. A highly selective list includes Liv Tyler, Josh Hartnett, Mena Suvari, Chris Klein, Scott Caan and Thora Birch, with Waterhouse and colleague Clare Lawrence loath for the moment to name names in the play’s fourth and fifth casts — beyond confirming those replacements are likely to be older and somewhat starrier than the Hanks-Culkin-Lohman lineup.
Does that mean we will at last be getting the Leonardo DiCaprio-Tobey Maguire pairing that has been rumored for months? (The two did an “under-the-radar reading” of the play Stateside, reports Waterhouse, with Kirsten Dunst.) Probably not, at least in London; Waterhouse indicated the male superstars are more likely to surface in a future U.S. staging of Lonergan’s 1996 Off Broadway play.
Their absence still leaves half of Hollywood on an exceedingly lengthy West End shortlist, U.K. actors included. Small wonder, then, that Waterhouse, 28, sees herself and 27-year-old Lawrence as “alchemists” whose job is “to pair people up in combinations that will work.” (Sometimes, the performers already know each other, as was obviously true in May of Matt Damon, Casey Affleck and Summer Phoenix; other times, they do not — viz. the opening combo last March of Anna Paquin, Jake Gyllenhaal and the likely-to-be-definitive Dennis of Hayden Christensen.)
After a slow box office start last spring, the gamble seems to be paying off. Director Laurence Boswell’s initial production paid back £300,000 ($465,000) by the end of Damon’s run, leaving the return stand to be financed from scratch at a slightly higher capitalization of $545,000.
So far so good, and yet how special can a play really be if any trio of young film bucks apparently can play it? Waterhouse takes up the challenge. “It’s not just a matter of churning the play out with as many people as possible. Each cast, we hope, will be worth seeing in their own right because they are really doing something special and unique with the material.”
A triumph in triplicate
Speaking of trios — and when, these days, is London legit not? — continued credit to the Royal Court for mounting its own small-scale challenge to the more widely publicized trilogies from Tom Stoppard (“The Coast of Utopia”) and Alan Ayckbourn (“Damsels in Distress”) by mounting three short plays by Caryl Churchill that collectively make up one major event.
In truth, the Churchill sequence isn’t an official trilogy, but rather an invaluable programming counterpart to the same venue’s sellout run of Churchill’s new “A Number,” which looks headed to the West End and then New York next year. (Among the issues on that front: whether to go on Broadway or Off, and just how long Michael Gambon — a star with a famously low boredom threshold — will commit to doing the hourlong play.) So while auds downstairs at the Court were pondering Churchill’s contempo take on cloning and the mysteries of self, auds in the 84-seater upstairs were treated to differently expressed views of comparable dilemmas in plays from years past.
All three shows were expertly done: “This Is a Chair” (1997), “Not Not Not Not Not Enough Oxygen” (1971) and “Identical Twins” (1968), the last two originally written for radio. If the earliest play was also the most exhilarating, that’s due to a conceit suggesting Hitchcock crossed with Pinter and to a production from Dominic Cooke — and starring two real-life brothers, John and Martin Marquez (they’re six years apart in age) — as the tormented twins.
Amid all the talk of triptychs, how about this for one helluva double bill: “Identical Twins” before the intermission and then “A Number” after?