Mamet, McDonagh and 'Bengal Tiger' highlight Taper's 2010 season*
In a season that had to make concessions to the changing economy, the Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum has announced a 2010 lineup that includes David Mamet's "Speed-the-Plow," directed by Neil Pepe, Martin McDonagh's "The Lieutenant of Inishmore," Rajiv Joseph's "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo" and Judith Ivey in the Long Wharf Theatre production of Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie."
The season, announced today by Michael Ritchie -- artistic director of CTG, which oversees the Taper, the Ahmanson Theatre and Culver City's Kirk Douglas Theatre -- also includes the world premiere of a musical which CTG describes as featuring "the work of one of America's greatest living singer/songwriters," with title and details to be announced soon. The touring production of 'Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps' at the Ahmanson Theatre is offered as a bonus production to Taper subscribers.
The new season opens Feb. 21 with "Speed-the-Plow" and runs through Dec. 19 but leaves empty most of the month of June. In an interview Thursday, Ritchie said that leaving one month open for programming that will be scheduled later is an effort on the part of CTG to take advantage of the fact that more and more theatergoers seem to be forgoing the subscription model and making their ticket-buying decisions at the last minute.
“We’re being somewhat opportunistic there,” Ritchie said. “As you’ve seen at the Douglas for the last couple of years, we’ve done that and filled our time well … we’re trying to break out of a rigid model of producing with the hopes that we may be able to expand that to the Taper and, potentially, the Ahmanson, although it gets more complicated the larger the theater gets.”
“Bengal Tiger,” set in Iraq, had its world premiere at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in May and was a hit with critics and audiences (read Charles McNulty's review). Moises Kaufman will direct, and Ritchie said the Taper hopes to utilize as much of the original cast as possible. “Bengal Tiger” is not being announced as a pre-Broadway production but Ritchie said “we would certainly like to see it move further than the Taper.”
Casting has not been announced for Mamet’s Hollywood satire “Speed-the-Plow,” but it will be directed by Pepe, who directed the 2008 Broadway revival of the 1988 play, and Ritchie said that the Taper is seeking to employ the same designers and as much of the Broadway cast as possible. “Yes, you could say it is a re-creation of the Broadway production,” he said.
Ritchie said the weak economy that has existed during the Taper’s ongoing season has affected the programming choices made for this season; “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” was postponed from the ongoing season to the upcoming one. CTG also dropped a show from its Kirk Douglas Theatre schedule, “Heddatron,” and cut its overall administrative costs during the ongoing season.
"The economy definitely affected this particular season; it forced a show from last year into this season," Ritchie said. "However, in this  season we have some large-scale shows, 'Inishmore' and a new musical, and we believe we weathered the worst of the economic crisis by being extremely proactive, cutting back on our administrative costs and offering our 100,000 tickets at $20 to spur audiences to get in the doors, and we managed our expenses very well."
On a positive note, Ritchie said that the most recent round of Ahmanson season subscription renewals set a record this year and added: “A hit is a hit in any economy,” he said. “The onus is on us to produce the shows that people want to see.”
The Taper season:
Feb. 21-March 21: “Speed-the-Plow”
April 25-May 30: “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo”
April 28-May 16 (at the Ahmanson): “Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps”
July 11-Aug. 8: “The Lieutenant of Inishmore”
Sept. 12-Oct.17, 2010: “The Glass Menagerie”
Nov.21-Dec. 19: A world premiere musical (details to be announced)
-- Diane Haithman
*Updated: an earlier version of this story had an incorrect date for the opening of “The Lieutenant of Inishmore”
Photos: Kevin Tighe as Tiger and Brad Fleischer as Kev in the Kirk Douglas Theatre production of "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo." Credit: Ringo H.W Chiu / For the Times. Judith Ivey in the Long Wharf Theatre production of “The Glass Menagerie.” Credit: T. Charles Erickson.