Funny business and tragic figures

Character studies
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  September 14, 2011

GET ME REWRITE! Stephen Thorne, Angela Brazil, and Fred Sullivan, Jr. in Trinity Rep’s His Girl Friday.

A reliable laugh-getter, HIS GIRL FRIDAY just opened at Trinity Repertory Company (through October 9). The new adaptation by playwright John Guare, based on the 1931 comedy film The Front Page, by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, is about the efforts of gruff newspaper editor Walter Burns to keep ace reporter Hildy Johnson, his ex-wife, from leaving to remarry.

Anyone familiar with Trinity and its resident company knows who has to play the above described characters: Fred Sullivan Jr. — recall his Falstaff, or Harold Hill in The Music Man?; and Angela Brazil — remember her spunky characters in Blithe Spirit or Absurd Person Singular?

Trinity artistic director Curt Columbus wanted to direct the play himself because he loves Guare's work, but also because he had specific ideas about staging it as a quick-change piece, with actors in two or three roles. He calls it "a kind of American farce on is a main battling steroids.

"It has to be fast," he says. "If it moves slow, it loses some of its reason to be there."

He credits resident set designer Eugene Lee with facilitating the brisk pacing by providing plenty of depth, with the illusion of many offstage rooms for people to pop out of and plenty of doors to slam.

Columbus gives props to Guare for a thoughtful adaptation: "Guare has really focused on the fact that this is August 31, 1939, which is the day before the Germans invade Poland and World War II begins. He's really focused a lot on the ways in which the period, the moment — the historical moment — really pressurizes certain aspects of the play."

And it couldn't be more a part of our own moment, he says, since it seems torn from headlines about the Murdoch newspaper scandals. "There's a lot of talk of making up the truth for the sake of expediency, and for the sake of putting forth a particular political idea. So in fact His Girl Friday couldn't be more contemporary, even though it is based on a movie made in 1931."

As a bonus, it fits right into Trinity's theme this season — plays about truth and justice.

Trinity Rep will also be doing Bruce Norris's CLYBOURNE PARK, this year's Pulitzer Prize winner for drama (October 14-November 13). The playwright's audacious concept was to imagine events occurring before and after a landmark in theater history, Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin In the Sun. The 1959 drama about an African-American family in Chicago was the first play written by a black woman to reach Broadway. Norris, who is white, has done a lot of work with Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company. And, of course, A CHRISTMAS CAROL is scheduled for November 18-December 30, as well as IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A LIVE RADIO PLAY (December 9-31).

Trinity Rep's Fred Sullivan, Jr. will direct at the Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre, as he frequently does, taking the helm of HAMLET (November 3-December 11). Tony Estrella will once again play the brooding Dane; his 1997 performance in the role was described on these pages as "brilliant, compelling theater." Gamm veteran Sam Babbitt will reprise his role as Polonius, which impressed then for "downplaying the pomposity . . . and turning up the honest, fatherly pride."

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