For half a century, Mike Nichols has been foraging omnivorously through most every morsel that feeds mainstream theater.
But never, until now, has the six-time Tony winner taken on his old friend Harold Pinter. Thus, while the first theatrical pairing of movie-star couple Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz is the big box-office lure in the upcoming revival of Pinter's "Betrayal," the first coupling of Nichols and the late, great English provocateur / playwright solidifies this as the big event of the season.
"I have loved this play since he wrote it," Nichols tells me in a recent phone interview during the first week of rehearsals. "I've thought about it for a long time."
"Betrayal" is the least elusive, least oblique of Pinter's mysterious power-plays, a dazzling, merciless three-sided dissection of adultery that moves backward from the end of an affair to the first frisson of furtive contact. Weisz and Craig play the long-married couple, fellow Brit Rafe Spall is the best friend with whom she carries on secretly for seven years.
Nichols describes this as a "play that asks a lot of questions and provides some tentative answers. What is love? Is it different from sex? Where do they cross? What the hell is it all?"
Craig -- best known as Bond, James Bond -- made his 2009 Broadway debut as a quietly desperate, deeply moving Chicago cop in "A Steady Rain," a two-man play with Hugh Jackman as the explosive one. Although this is Weisz's Broadway debut, she was impressively subtle Off-Broadway 12 years ago in Neil LaBute's "The Shape of Things," won an Oscar for "The Constant Gardener" and a 2010 Olivier for her Blanche in London's "A Streetcar Named Desire."
I asked Nichols if there was anything special about having a married couple play Pinter's spouses. "I don't think a married couple of very good actors is any different from two very good actors who aren't married," he says reasonably. Then he adds a bit of Pinteresque mystery about the famously press-averse actors. "They just show up together or separately and do what they do. I don't think they plot things together at all."
As for Pinter's trademark pauses and heavily stylized menace, Nichols insists the play should not be "mannered. It's alive. Nothing supernatural happens. Adultery is not unusual. Finding out is not unusual. It's one of the things some people do."
Pinter, a Nobel winner who died at 78 of cancer in 2008, was scathing about U.S. foreign policy. "He was a very funny guy, a real gentleman," Nichols recalls, "Unless you got him on the subject of American politics. Then he was a nightmare and you had to try to slip away." Pinter, the master of ambiguity who believed "life is more mysterious than plays make it out to be," might have been amused. Then again, maybe not.
'Betrayal" fits neatly into a fall season dominated by British actors, classics and even another Harold Pinter, "No Man's Land," presented by Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in repertory with Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot." Mark Rylance and the all-male Shakespeare Globe also come with an unusual two-play rep -- "Twelfth Night" and "Richard III."
Orlando Bloom does Romeo and even all-American Ethan Hawke takes on Macbeth. On the lighter side, Billy Crystal is back with his autobiographical solo, and Janis Joplin gets the Broadway treatment on the pop side.
Romeo and Juliet (Richard Rodgers Theatre, 226 W. 46th St., Sept. 19). This seems unlikely, given all the less obvious combinations we've seen of Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers, but Broadway is getting its first interracial, updated interpretation of the heart-shredding romance. The cast includes film star (and a favorite pirate of the Caribbean) Orlando Bloom and Broadway star-on-the-cusp (and double Tony nominee) Condola Rashad in a production directed by five-time Tony nominee David Leveaux.
Big Fish (Neil Simon Theatre, 250 W. 52nd St., Oct. 10). The biggest fish among Broadway's new musicals is adapted from the 2003 movie about a son's journey to sort out the fantastical stories of his dying father. The irrepressibly gifted Norbert Leo Butz ("Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," "Catch Me If You Can") co-stars with Kate Baldwin ("Finian's Rainbow"). Music and lyrics are by Andrew Lippa ("The Wild Party," "The Addams Family") and the production, embraced in its Chicago tryout, is directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman.
The Winslow Boy (American Airlines, 227 W. 42nd St., Oct. 17). The elegantly written, British upper-class plays by Terence Rattigan are hardly known in this country these days, and, even in England, the prolific author of "Separate Tables" and "The Deep Blue Sea" was overshadowed by the angry-young-men playwrights after World War II. His 1946 "Winslow Boy," about a family's fight to clear a son's name after a minor crime, stars Michael Cumpsty, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Roger Rees, in a production, directed by Lindsay Posner, from London's Old Vic.
A Time to Kill (Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45th St., Oct. 20). Bestselling novelist John Grisham isn't the only veteran making a Broadway debut in this adaptation of his 1989 Mississippi courtroom thriller (and 1996 movie) about a young lawyer defending a black man for killing his daughter's white killers. TV regular Tom Skerritt and TV actor-U.S. Senator-Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson will also be on Broadway for the first time, joining blazing Off-Broadway star John Douglas Thompson, plus vets Tonya Pinkins and Patrick Page. Rupert Holmes ("The Mystery of Edwin Drood") is doing the adaptation.
The Snow Geese (Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St., Oct. 24). Mary-Louise Parker returns to her theater roots in this new drama by Sharr White ("The Other Place") about a family on a rural hunting party at the start of World War I. Director Daniel Sullivan's production, a partnership between Manhattan Theatre Club and MCC Theatre, includes Danny Burstein and Victoria Clark in its impressive cast.
Betrayal (Barrymore Theatre, 243 W. 47th St., Oct. 27). Mike Nichols directs this revival of Harold Pinter's 1987 adultery drama starring Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz.
Twelfth Night (Belasco Theatre, 111 W. 44th St., Nov. 10). Mark Rylance, the virtuosic British shape-shifter who won Tonys for "Boeing Boeing" and "Jerusalem," plays Olivia in this authentically all-male production from Shakespeare's Globe, the company he ran from 1995 to 2005. The production, which includes onstage candles and traditional Elizabethan instruments, will be in repertory with . . .
Richard III (Belasco Theatre, 111 W. 44th St., Nov. 10). In which Rylance plays the murderous humpbacked royal seducer.
700 Sundays (Imperial Theatre, 249 W. 45th St., Nov. 13). Billy Crystal returns with his altogether remarkable 2005 Tony-winning one-man play based on his life.
A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder (Walter Kerr, 219 W. 48th St., Nov. 17). Jefferson Mays, who won a Tony as a transgender German who survived the Nazis and Communists in a dress in "I Am My Own Wife," returns to Broadway as the eight heirs standing in the way of a distant relative's inheritance in this new Edwardian musical comedy. Publicity describes Robert L. Freedman's show as having the "laurels of 'Downton Abbey' and the morals of a mongoose." Since I get so few opportunities to type "mongoose," I thought I should quote this.
Macbeth (Beaumont Theatre, Lincoln Center, Nov. 21). Ethan Hawke, who has done staggering work lately in plays by Chekhov, Rabe and Stoppard, now takes on Shakespeare's tragedy of toxic ambition in a production directed by Jack O'Brien ("The Coast of Utopia"). His Lady Macbeth is Anne-Marie Duff, the English actress who recently earned head-turning reviews in "Strange Interlude" at the National Theatre.
No Man's Land (Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St., Nov. 24). Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart play doubles in Harold Pinter's squeaky dry and sly 1975 power play. This will be in repertory with . . .
Waiting for Godot (Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St., Nov. 24). Stewart and McKellen in Samuel Beckett's masterwork. Sean Mathias, co-artistic director of London's Theatre Royal Haymarket, directs both plays.
And keep in mind . . .
All the Faces of the Moon (Joe's Pub, Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St., Wednesday). Controversial monologist-activist Mike Daisey presents separate but connected muckraking solos over 29 nights in the course of a lunar month.
Fetch Clay, Make Man (New York Theatre Workshop, 79 E. Fourth St., Thursday). Will Power lets us in on the improbable real-life friendship between Cassius Clay (before he was Muhammad Ali) and long-discredited black Hollywood comic Stepin Fetchit. Des McAnuff ("Jersey Boys") directs.
The Old Friends (Signature Theatre Company, 480 W. 42nd St., Thursday). Betty Buckley, Lois Smith and Hallie Foote co-star in the world premiere of this Texas family drama by the late Horton Foote.
Women or Nothing (Atlantic Theater Company, 336 W. 20th St., Sept. 16). For several years, Ethan Coen has been writing sketches and one-act plays without his cinematic sibling. This first full-length work involves lesbians who want babies.
The Film Society (Clurman Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St., Oct. 1). When this drama opened in 1989, starring a kid named Nathan Lane, the work introduced the provocative, surprisingly mature voice of young Jon Robin Baitz ("Other Desert Cities"). Ever since, the play about a white teacher in a South African school for boys has been near the top of plays I yearn to see again. Euan Morton (so good in "Taboo") stars.
Bad Jews (Pels Theatre, 111 W. 46th St., Oct. 3). Joshua Harmon's comedy about family and holier-than-thou litmus tests was a hit last fall at the Roundabout's tiny but mighty Underground. Now the premiere moves upstairs to the company's Off-Broadway showcase.
The Landing (Vineyard Theatre, 108 E. 15th St., previews Oct. 3). David Hyde Pierce stars in these three interlocking musicals by John Kander and Greg Pierce, the actor's nephew. Walter Bobbie ("Chicago") directs.
Little Miss Sunshine (Second Stage Theatre, 307 W. 43rd St., previews Oct. 15). Author James Lapine and composer William Finn, the team that gave us "Falsettos" and "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," have adapted the 2006 movie about a family road trip to a children's beauty pageant.
Romeo & Juliet (Classic Stage Company, 136 E. 13th St., Oct. 16). Star-crossed lovers are doing double duty this season. While Broadway has Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad, this innovative and intimate theater does it with Elizabeth Olsen, T.R. Knight and Daniel Davis.
The Apple Family Plays: Scenes From Life in the Country (Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St., Oct. 22). Playwright- director Richard Nelson has methodically opened three plays about the Apple family on significant days -- elections, the anniversary of 9/11. Finally, we will be able to see them in repertory, plus the fourth play, "Regular Singing," which completes the intimate and political saga, opening Nov. 22.
Fun Home (Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St., Oct. 22). Composer Jeanine Tesori ("Violet") and author-lyricist Lisa Kron ("Well") collaborate on this anticipated musical based on Alison Bechdel's graphic novel about her late father.
Grasses of a Thousand Colors (Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St., Oct. 28). The extraordinary (if too brief) Wallace Shawn-Andre Gregory festival continues with the playwright, Julie Hagerty and Jennifer Tilly in this play about sexual expression and ecological disaster.
A Midsummer Night's Dream (Theatre for a New Audience, 262 Ashland Place, Brooklyn, Nov. 2). Julie Taymor has triumphed with "The Lion King" and survived "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark." Now the visionary director-designer surfaces for the first time since her Spider troubles to celebrate the new Brooklyn playhouse of Theatre for a New Audience, where she worked in less visible days.
Domesticated (Lincoln Center Theater, Nov. 4). Bruce Norris, Pulitzer- winning playwright of "Clybourne Park," explores a marriage upended by a scandal. Jeff Goldblum and Laurie Metcalf are part of an irresistible cast.
The Jacksonian (The New Group, 410 W. 42nd St., Nov. 7). Speaking of casts, Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, Bill Pullman and Glenne Headley are embroiled in Beth Henley's comic drama about a Mississippi dentist on a downward spiral in 1964 and a town driven mad by racism.
How I Learned What I Learned (Signature Theatre Company, 480 W. 42nd St. date to be announced, November). The late August Wilson was supposed to perform his autobiographical monologue at this theater. Now Wilson specialist Ruben Santiago-Hudson has been entrusted to speak for him.
A Bed and a Chair: A New York Love Story (New York City Center, 55th Street west of Sixth Avenue, Nov. 13-17). Unlikely bedfellows Stephen Sondheim and Wynton Marsalis collaborate in this, in which more than two dozen Sondheim songs are reimagined with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.
The Commons of Pensacola (Manhattan Theatre Club, 131 W. 55th St., Nov. 21). Sarah Jessica Parker and Blythe Danner co-star in this family tale of Wall Street scams by actress Amanda Peet. Lynne Meadow ("The Assembled Parties") directs.
The Last Two People on Earth: An Apocalyptic Vaudeville (Classic Stage Company, 136 E. 13th St., Dec. 14). Mandy Patinkin and boundary-pushing playwright Taylor Mac are apocalypse survivors searching for humanity through music. Susan Stroman directs.
Radio City Christmas Spectacular (Radio City Music Hall, Nov. 8-Dec. 30). The annual institution has always defined the word "spectacular." This year, the Rockettes even have a new number, called, yes, "Snow."
A Christmas Story, The Musical" (The Theater at Madison Square Garden, Dec. 11-29). Last year, the show, based on the off-beat 1983 film, got a Tony nomination for best Broadway musical -- a rare occurrence for a holiday offering with a limited run. Now Ralphie and his weirdly lovable family come to Madison Square Garden.
An earlier version of this story stated that William Hurt was to have played Friar Laurence in the Classic Stage Company's upcoming "Romeo & Juliet." Hurt has withdrawn from the off-Broadway production for personal reasons. Daniel Davis replaces him.