Broadway tryout 'Dirt' to open Mechanic season

A Broadway tryout starring James Whitmore and "Laughter on the 23rd Floor," Neil Simon's latest Broadway comedy, have been added to the Baltimore Center for the Performing Arts' 1994-1995 subscription season, general manager Steve Goldstein has announced.

The tryout, "Dirt," by Bruce Gooch, will open the season at the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre with a three-week run beginning Nov. 1. The three-person play focuses on the relationship between an elderly farmer suffering from dementia (Whitmore) and his adult son.


The play premiered at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts last summer and was subsequently produced at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre. Goldstein, who saw it in San Diego in April, describes it as "a very moving piece of theater about a very troubling subject and one that I felt was very relevant: how a son deals with his father when the father can no longer live on his own."

Whitmore, who is best known for his portrayals of Will Rogers, Harry Truman and Teddy Roosevelt in one-man shows, last performed at the Mechanic in 1981 in "On Golden Pond." An Emmy Award winner and two-time Oscar nominee, he is readily recognizable as the spokesman for Miracle-Gro.


"Dirt" replaces the previously announced production of "Godspell," whose tour was canceled by its producers due to casting problems, according to Goldstein.

"Laughter on the 23rd Floor," Simon's 27th Broadway production, is about a group of comedy writers working on a variety show in the early days of live television. The play is based on Simon's experiences writing for Sid Caesar's "Your Show of Shows" and "Caesar's Hour" with such writers as Mel Brooks and Larry Gelbart.

Scheduled to play the Mechanic from Feb. 28 to March 19, 1995, "Laughter on the 23rd Floor" opened in November on Broadway, where it is still running. Casting for the touring production has not been finalized.

In other casting news, however, Goldstein said Gena Rowlands will play artist Georgia O'Keeffe in the previously announced April tryout of Lanie Robertson's "Flowers and Photos, an American Romance," a two-person play about the artist's marriage to photographer Alfred Stieglitz. Rowlands will star opposite Ben Gazzara, with whom she has appeared in John Cassavetes' 1977 movie "Opening Night," and the 1985 NBC movie "An Early Frost."

Although the Baltimore Center for the Performing Arts has a reputation for presenting tryouts, "Flowers and Photos" and "Dirt" will be its first pre-Broadway shows since "Park Your Car in Harvard Yard" in 1991.

Goldstein said presenting tryouts of dramatic plays is one way to round out the season now that Broadway has become increasingly geared toward musicals and away from plays.

"Instead of looking to Broadway, I've been scrounging and sniffing out shows either on their way to Broadway or at regional theaters," he explained.

The BCPA subscription season will include one more show, which probably also will be a play, Goldstein said. He expects to announce the show soon.


Season at a glance

Here's the 1994-1995 Baltimore Center for the Performing Arts subscription season:

* "Dirt," Nov. 1-20, Morris A. Mechanic Theatre

* "A Grand Night for Singing," Dec. 27 to Jan. 15, 1995, Mechanic

* "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," Jan. 17-29, 1995, Lyric Opera House

* "Laughter on the 23rd Floor," Feb. 28-March 19, Mechanic


* "Flowers and Photos," April 4-23, Mechanic

* "The Who's Tommy," May 2-14, Lyric

A seventh show is yet to be announced. BCPA subscriptions range from $120 to $320. For more information, call (410) 625-1400.