Helen Hunt to Play Stage Manager in 'Our Town'

July 2, 2010

Originally written for the NEW YORK TIMES

helen190-articleInline.jpgBryan Bedder/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival
A great many secrets are revealed about the characters in Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" with one exception, the Stage Manager, who narrates the three-act play without saying much of anything about himself. Or herself, in the case of the acclaimed Off Broadway production at the Barrow Street Theater.

The Academy Award-winning actress Helen Hunt ("As Good as It Gets") will join the cast as the Stage Manager for a limited run, July 6-Aug. 1, the producers announced on Tuesday. She will succeed Michael McKean ("A Mighty Wind"), becoming the sixth actor to assume the role in this long-running production, directed by David Cromer ("When The Rain Stops Falling"), who played the Stage Manager in the first several months of the run of the play, which opened in February 2009.

Women have occasionally played the Stage Manager; Wanda McCaddon did it in a 2004 production at the Playhouse in San Francisco. But the role is mostly associated with male actors, often famous ones. For the play's premiere on Broadway in 1938, the character actor Frank Craven was the Stage Manager, a part he reprised in the 1940 film starring William Holden. Since then, Frank Sinatra, Henry Fonda, Hal Holbrook, Spalding Gray and Paul Newman have been among those who played it onstage or on television. The Stage Manager functions as an omniscient guide to the fictional town of Grover's Corners, N.H., and its 2,642 residents.

A spokesman for the production said, "The Wilder Estate was alerted to the fact that she was coming to the show, but it was not a requirement" to cast a woman in the role.

Ms. Hunt is no stranger to "Our Town," having played the role of young Emily Webb in the 1988-89 Lincoln Center Theater production, which starred Mr. Gray. Ms. Hunt's last major stage production in New York was Yasmina Reza's play "Life x 3" on Broadway at Circle in the Square in 2003; she also played Viola in the Lincoln Center Theater production of "Twelfth Night" in 1998, and Bianca in "The Taming of the Shrew" at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park in 1990.

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