Along with a small number of theater critics and reporters, I recently had the pleasure of spending an afternoon in a Manhattan rehearsal studio with the English actor Alan Bates -- yes, the very same revered star of stage and screen, who is presently one of the dazzling actors featured in the film, "Gosford Park." Also in attendance was the lovely Texas-born actress, Juilliard graduate Enid Graham, who appeared in Hartford Stage's Enchanted April and who won a Tony Award nomination for her role in Honour. They are a part of the cast of 13, which includes Frank Langella and Mr. Bates' son, Benedick, being directed by Arthur Penn, whose extraordinary career is highlighted by the play and film, "The Miracle Worker." (He was head of the Actor's Studio for four years and instrumental in setting up the program with the New School.)

All of the above are involved in a new production of a Russian play, Fortune's Fool, whose themes are family, inheritance, and entitlement. Written by Turgenev in the 1800s as a short story, "One in the Family," it has been newly adapted by Mike Poulton. The piece will have 12 performances, beginning March 3 and running through February 13, 2002 at the Rich Forum / Stamford Center for the Arts. It then moves from Stamford to Broadway's Music Box Theater, where it will officially open April 2, 2002.

Although always busy, Bates has not been seen on Broadway for 25 years. Last season, he acquitted himself nobly Off Broadway at the Promenade Theater in Yasmina Reza's two-character, The Unexpected Man and can be seen in many television projects, it seems nightly on PBS. Fortune's Fool, a story of family, inheritance and entitlement, was well-received last season in Chichester, a summer festival theater outside of London, with Bates establishing the role that he will reprise here of Vassily Kuzovkin, a nobleman with a secret. Rita Gam was responsible for bringing the play to his attention and is one of the producers.

Pleasantly modest, Bates, his beard and mustache in place, looking very fit and Brit in a navy blue blazer, was drawn to the part, he said, because of its theatricality. He added, "it's a good yarn and very funny," and this production promises to be sharper, more focused than the original. He is enjoying his work with Langella, whom he had not met before. (Langella was supposed to join us but pleaded a family medical emergency.) There was no hint of the deep tragedies Bates had experienced in the past years both with the death of his son, Tristan, twin to Benedick, and his wife.

When asked why he had chosen to return to Broadway with this particular play, director Penn, a slight man with twinkling blue eyes, who was for four years the head of the Actor's Studio, explained that it was filled with the substance, intellectual complexity and beauty that he feels has been missing in the theater. He pointed out how rare it is to have a play with two such strong parts, played by two such impressive actors. "I never left Broadway," he said, "it just bored me." He shared with us his laissez faire theory of directing. -- "I do think actors are over-directed" -- and models of the two-set play, a country estate, designed by John Arnone. Photos of the lavish costumes by Jane Greenwood were available for perusal.

We also had an opportunity to meet and talk with two of the eight producers, Ben Sprecher and Julian Schlossberg, and George E. Moredock, III, Executive Director of Stamford Center for the Arts, who described with pride the excellent stage space the Rich Forum provides and the fine union crew it offers. Sprecher, co-owner of two Off Broadway theaters (one of my favorites, the Promenade, and the Variety Arts), is happy to be able to try out a play so close to New York.

Local critics are barred from reviewing the play in Connecticut, though they'll be invited to New York to see the Broadway version. Stamford Center for the Arts has encouraged this non-reviewing policy -- one that I and the vast majority of my colleagues oppose -- for several productions, i.e. Dinner with Friends and Bells are Ringing. Asked about this policy over lunch at Joe Allen's, producer Sprecher was adamant. "We are spending almost two million dollars on this production, and we must have a place to try it out, before the critics take over."

It's a reminder that despite all this talent and knowledge of theater, there is, of course, no guarantee Fortune's Fool will be a success. That's what makes theater so exciting and so dangerous.


Key Subjects: 
Fortune's Fool, Alan Bates, Ben Sprecher, Ivan Turgenev, Stamford
Rosalind Friedman
Writer Bio: 
Rosalind Friedman served as the Connecticut critic for This Month ON STAGE magazine
February 2002
Alan Bates and the Producers Discuss the Broadway-Bound Fortune's Fool