Donmar doings

LONDON — The first London revival of John Osborne’s 1968 play “The Hotel in Amsterdam” and the stage preem of Patrick Marber‘s “After Miss Julie” — a Strindberg riff previously seen on TV — will complete Michael Grandage‘s first full season as Donmar Warehouse a.d., post-Sam Mendes.

Robin Lefevre (“Three Days of Rain”) directs the Osborne, with Grandage serving up Marber in the Christmas slot.

“It’s weird because I don’t feel like I’ve been doing (this job) a year,” says Grandage, 41, who will continue to juggle his Donmar duties with programming up in Yorkshire at the Sheffield Theaters.

There, he and his long-term designer (and partner) Christopher Oram will collaborate on a new “Midsummer Night’s Dream” in September, followed in February by Tennessee Williams’ “Suddenly Last Summer.”

Back in London, Grandage hopes to do some Shakespeare at the Donmar, as well as an absurdist season and also a new musical. What about flat-out comedy, a realm more or less uncharted by this excavator of pain (witness his latest Donmar offering, Camus’ “Caligula”)? “I wonder if I’d be any good” at comedy, he muses. “I don’t think I would, actually.”

No laughing matter is the Donmar’s continued quest for cash, given the obvious limitations on the money that any 251-seater can make from box office alone. With the departure of Mendes, the cash injection from DreamWorks is no more, while a three-year $400,000-per-annum deal courtesy of Broadway producing entity Waxman/Williams finishes in July.

Even the Donmar’s Arts Council money, despite a 34% increase over the two years to 2005-06, is still half that of the Almeida.

“Financially,” says Grandage, “we always need to look to our people.” Luckily for the Donmar, people like to look back.

Championship “Season”

Edward Albee has lent his prestigious imprimatur to Brooklyn-based writer Will Eno, describing the dramatist’s work in print as “inventive, disciplined and, at the same time, wild and evocative.”

On the strength of Eno’s latest London offering, “The Flu Season,” Eno both merits and repays the compliment. Premiered at west London’s 65-seat Gate Theater, “Flu Season” — its title notwithstanding — isn’t a torn-from-the-headlines theatrical response to SARS. Instead, it’s a distinctly Albee-esque meditation on love and death at a time of pain, shot through with a sizable dose of Marivaux.

Think a group-therapy version of “The Play About the Baby” with similarly archetypally named characters: young lovers billed solely as Man (Matthew Delamere) and Woman (Raquel Cassidy), while the supervising medics are Nurse (Pamela Miles) and Doctor (Damien Thomas). The self-evidently named Prologue (Martin Parr) and Epilogue (Alan Cox, son of actor Brian) are on hand to fill in the blanks — or provide a few of their own.

As is often true with Albee, content in “The Flu Season” jostles playfully against form, with Eno offering up an experiment in syntax alongside an elegy of sorts. “Their skin is young and they know nothing,” we are told of the hapless young couple who, like Albee’s junior pair in “Play About the Baby,” must experience heartache and loss almost before they can put words to it.

Flippancy plays a part (“Don’t get sick in Portugal,” we are advised), as well as a turn of phrase that risks self-consciousness in the extreme: The line “You should have the last word” leads to a litany of words ending with the query, “Is Latin Latin?”

I wearied quickly of Eno’s previous entry, the tautologically titled “TRAGEDY: a tragedy,” which premiered at the Gate in 2001. But at twice the length of its hourlong predecessor, “Flu Season” is infinitely livelier and more affecting. And it is saved from the black hole of archness by Gate a.d. Erica Whyman‘s smart staging and an exemplary cast who find something genuinely touching in the writing’s tendency toward obscurantism and/or camp.

In any case, it’s hard to imagine not responding to any play whose casts boasts Cassidy, a fresh-faced young talent of almost preternatural appeal and grace. Consider a characteristic outburst from Cassidy’s Woman: “Excuse me. I’m sorry. I’ll be all right. Or I’m wrong. I’m sorry, and I won’t be all right. And I’m not sorry.” Nor should she be. Everything this actress does is right.

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