"I'm mystified," Sontag says during a talk from her New York home. "It's a painful story. I don't profess to understand it completely, but I'm extremely disappointed."
What she's upset about seems to be as much process as outcome. And Sontag makes it clear that because she was out of the country when preproduction difficulties arose, she doesn't have firsthand knowledge of what happened. What she knows she heard from Tina Landau, a rising young director of national repute who had been signed to shepherd Alice. Though Landau herself was unavailable for comment, Sontag says the director voiced some concerns to her -- actually, she says she "responded to the director's panic" -- and she in turn passed them along to the Alley. After a back and forth discussion, the show was no more.
Among the concerns Sontag voiced was that her play would have to be mounted on the Angels in America set deck and use its lighting grid. What's more, says Sontag, Landau told her that only a few weeks before rehearsals were to begin the show had yet to be cast. A year ago, Sontag says, she and Alley Artistic Director Gregory Boyd devised a wish list of actresses for the lead role; they both agreed a "major actress" was called for. But as of a couple of months ago, says Sontag, getting that major actress "had never been tried for."
"She's mistaken," Boyd responds, saying that he talked with Sontag's first choice -- Linda Hunt -- along with other actresses. But their schedules simply didn't permit them to sign on.
And while it's true that the show had not been cast, the main reason, says Boyd, was that Landau wasn't available to do the job. In fact, Alice was originally to run in November, concurrently with the world premiere of Robert Wilson's HAMLET a monologue. But with both Landau and Wilson having other commitments, the productions were pushed back to this spring. Landau's other interests in New York, Boyd intimates, may have been what hindered things here. (There were, though, no apparent problems with Wilson; his HAMLET will go on as scheduled, beginning the 19th and running through the 27th.)
As for Sontag's other issues, Boyd says that while he has "tons of admiration for Susan, [she's] not very sophisticated about technical aspects of the theater." One show having to use another's setup, he notes, is "just reality."
Still, Alice hasn't been cheap. Boyd estimates that the budget for the play was around $185,000, some $65,000 of which had already been spent on preproduction expenses. Thirty-five percent of that came out of a special grant, but the rest was apparently the Alley's to eat.
Though the Alley's announcement said that Alice had been postponed, not canceled, Sontag is more blunt. "I think it was canceled," she says, adding that "they just didn't seem to be very committed."
Up a happier Alley way: This weekend, the Alley's staging of Angels in America will be showcased at the Venice Biennale, Europe's oldest, most important arts festival for the contemporary arts. It's the first time since 1990 that an American theater company has been represented at this 100-year-old festival. What's more, in June HAMLET a monologue will be going, too, making the Alley the first American theater company ever to present two productions there in the same year. It's enough to justify a certain honest Houston pride.
-- Peter Szatmary