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Geffen Playhouse 2009-10: Fishburne, Bening, Modine to anchor season

March 23, 2009 |  6:00 pm

Fishburne_2_3 Bening_3

The Geffen Playhouse has a long track record of presenting film stars acting in real time -- and in this economic downtime the Westwood stage company is turning up the name-appeal spigot for its 2009-10 season.

Of the four plays announced for the five-show main-stage season (one is still to be determined), three feature Hollywood stars, with Matthew Modine playing himself, Laurence Fishburne (above left) going solo as Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, and Annette Bening (above right) taking a belated turn as a feminist author in a tale based on a bizarre episode from the life of Germaine Greer.

"Matthew Modine Saves the Alpacas" (Sept. 16-Oct. 18) is a new work by Blair Singer that satirizes celebrity do-gooders by having the actor play himself attempting a fictional comeback via humanitarianism calculated to hoist him to a peak of fame.

"The Female of the Species" (Feb. 10-March 14, 2010), by Australian playwright Joanna Murray-Smith, originally was scheduled for its American premiere at the Geffen in February 2008 but was delayed when Bening withdrew from the production. Now she and it are back -- Bening playing a renowned author who gets held at gunpoint by a young woman who blames her problematic upbringing on the writer's feminist teachings. Bening's most recent L.A. stage performance was in the Mark Taper Forum's 2006 production of Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard." Geffen Artistic Director Randall Arney directs.

Fishburne, who starred as an embittered ex-ballplayer in the Pasadena Playhouse's acclaimed 2006 revival of August Wilson's "Fences," will solo at the Geffen in George Stevens Jr.'s "Thurgood" (July 7-Aug. 8, 2010), about the civil rights hero who became a U.S. Supreme Court justice. Fishburne performed the play on Broadway last year, earning a Tony nomination for best actor.

Also on the season is the premiere of "Nightmare Alley" (April 21-May 23, 2010), Jonathan Brielle's new musical based on a 1946 novel by William Lindsay Gresham, set in the world of traveling carnivals. Geffen Producing Director Gilbert Cates will direct the show, which was announced for the 2008-09 season, then delayed for financial reasons.

A show in the Nov. 18-Dec. 20 slot remains to be announced.

A spokeswoman for the Geffen said it remains uncertain whether it can muster the money to produce a 2009-10 season in its smaller Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater. The space is currently earning needed revenue as a rental house for "Louis & Keely: Live at the Sahara," film director Taylor Hackford's production of a musical about 1950s Las Vegas stars Louis Prima and Keely Smith.

-- Mike Boehm

Photo: Annette Bening. Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images.

Photo: Laurence Fishburne. Credit: Kathy Willens/Associated Press.