Doug Hughes, the busiest man Off Broadway, sits at the helm of four productions: John Patrick Shanley‘s “Doubt,” Stephen Belber‘s “For Reele,” Jon Robin Baitz‘s “The Paris Letter” and Bryony Lavery‘s “Last Easter,” which ended its run earlier this season at MCC.

“All of these are topical, indelible acts of imagination that make for vivid entertainment,” he says. “There used to be a routine place for this on Broadway.” That it no longer exists there, he opines, “I don’t know whether to evaluate it as recognition of the success of the institutional theater.”

Hughes took himself out of the running for George C. Wolfe‘s job at the Public Theater. “Right now my work is in the rehearsal hall,” he says. “It is comparatively novel for me to be out in the world directing plays, since most of my career was within the administration of the theater. Perhaps the stars will align and I’ll have that pleasure once again.” Among other gigs, Hughes was artistic director at the Long Wharf from 1997-2001.

In the past year, Hughes has been involved with seven productions. “Yes, it seems very busy to me. Which is the way I like it.”

Surprisingly, Hughes is not an avid play reader. He claims to read no more than 30 to pick the half-dozen or so he ends up directing in any given year.

Hughes also isn’t superstitious about viewing other directors’ interpretations: He plans to go to Culver City, Calif., to see the Michael Morris-helmed world preem of “The Paris Letter” in December.

“A director has the responsibility to see the play in performance,” he notes. With the exception of Ron Rifkin, Hughes expects to recast when he stages the Baitz play at the Roundabout next spring.

If anything links all the works Hughes chooses to direct, it is the theme of faith: “I’d better leave the realm of dog collars and genuflection sometime soon.” But not until he helms Alfred Uhry‘s new one, “Edgardo Mine,” based on the life of Pope Pius IX; it deals with “the absolute and unequivocal belief in God’s will.”

Full Circle

Except for the occasional big-ticket item like “Proof,” plays just aren’t made into movies anymore. That’s what makes the genesis of Johnny Depp starrer “Finding Neverland” so intriguing. It’s based on Allan Knee‘s seldom-staged “The Man Who Was Peter Pan,” which had its world preem in 1996 at American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass. The production starred Robert Stanton in the J.M. Barrie role. Knee called it a “painful experience” due to too much tinkering, in his opinion, from the director.

Two years later, his “Peter Pan” was retooled to more satisfactory results at the 42nd Street Workshop. More productions were proposed, but Knee decided to sell the option to film producers Nellie Bellflower and Tracey Becker, who in turn sold the project to Miramax.

Knee recalls that for the Workshop production he removed much of the play’s whimsy. “Which is now back in the film version,” he says. Miramax used David Magee‘s screenplay rather than the one by Knee, who is not complaining.

Miramax now is in talks with Knee about turning “Finding Neverland” into a stage musical.

This much is certain: “Little Women,” with a book by Knee, begins previews Dec. 7 at the Virginia, with opening night Jan. 23. Forever the optimist, Knee reports, “I’m guaranteed royalties for at least six weeks.”

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