Paul Newman takes on Steinbeck at revamped theater

Tue Feb 12, 2008 2:35am EST
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By Robert Osborne

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - Now that Joanne Woodward and Anne Keefe are back in charge at the Westport Country Playhouse -- both had taken a sabbatical -- things are looking up again for the 78th season of the venerable Connecticut venue.

Besides Woodward's 83-year-old husband Paul Newman directing a fall production of John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" scheduled for October 7-25, the 2008 slate also will include Timothy Busfield ("The West Wing") in Morris Panych's new play, "Vigil," directed by Stephen DiMenna, which will open the Westport season February 19-March 15.

That will be followed by a production of Alan Ayckbourn's comedy "Time of My Life," with Paxton Whitehead and directed by John Tillinger (April 1-26); then Craig Wright's play "The Pavilion," directed by Chad Rabinovitz (May 13-31); the musical revue "Hot 'n' Cole: A Cole Porter Celebration," devised by David Armstrong, Mark Waldrop and Bruce W. Coule (June 10-28); David Wiltse's comedy "Scramble!" directed by Tracey Brigden (July 8-28); and Karoline Leach's thriller "Tryst," with Mark Shanahan and directed by Joe Brancato (August 5-23), with other plays to be announced.

This famous theater was launched in 1931 by the Theatre Guild's Lawrence Langner and his wife, Armina Marshall, using a site that had been built in the 1830s as a cow barn and has since become one of the East Coast's most famous summer theaters. Spearheaded by Woodward and Keefe, it underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation three years ago and is now not only state-of-the-art, gleaming, infinitely more comfortable and certainly more ambitious but also has switched to a policy making it open year-round.

This is the week Oscar invades New York big time: On Friday, 50 shiny new Academy Award statuettes will go on display for public oohhing and aahhing at ABC's Times Square Studios, part of a free exhibition that runs through February 23.

A similar event was held last year at the same site and enjoyed massive success; equally big crowds are expected this time around. Besides the sight of those four dozen-plus golden boys all standing together, visitors also will be able to have a look at the Oscar awarded to Gary Cooper for 1941's "Sergeant York" (presented by Jimmy Stewart to Cooper in early 1942 while America, and Hollywood, was still reeling from its recent entry into World War II), as well as the one awarded just last year to Thelma Schoonmaker for her editing on Martin Scorsese's "The Departed."

Cooper's Oscar is courtesy of his daughter, Maria Cooper Janis, who also is the niece of the man who created the original Oscar statuette design back in 1927, legendary art director Cedric Gibbons. (For the record, there is a similar "Meet the Oscars" display going on in Hollywood in the Kodak Theatre; the 50 Oscars there are the ones that will presented on February 24.)

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

<p>Paul Newman, part owner of Newman Haas Lanigan Racing watches his cars race in the final qualifying round at the Grand Prix of Edmonton, in Edmonton, Alberta, July 21, 2007. REUTERS/Todd Korol</p>