Yale Bulletin and Calendar

November 22-December 6, 1999Volume 28, Number 14

"A Cup of Coffee" was written for the stage before Preston Sturges hit it big in Hollywood. The trailblazing Hollywood writer, director and producer is shown here demonstrating one of his lesser-known talents.

Yale Rep offers up 'A Cup of Coffee'
by noted filmmaker

The Yale Repertory Theatre will perk up the holidays when it invites audiences to partake of "A Cup of Coffee" Nov. 26-Dec. 18.

The romantic comedy by celebrated writer and filmmaker Preston Sturges will be directed by School of Drama graduate Joe Grifasi, who will be reunited in this production with his former Yale classmates, cast members Michael Gross and John Rothman.

Considered one of the great filmmakers from the "Golden Age of Hollywood," Sturges was the first Hollywood screenwriter to direct his own script. In fact, the credit "written and directed by" first appeared before his name in "The Great McGinty," and Sturges later won the first Academy Award ever given for Best Original Screenplay for the script. His other works include the classics "The Lady Eve," "The Palm Beach Story" and "Unfaithfully Yours."

Sturges wrote "A Cup of Coffee" in 1931, and it was slated to premiere at the Pasadena Playhouse, but the production was sidelined by the author's Hollywood success. Although a movie version of "A Cup of Coffee" -- titled "Christmas in July" -- was released in 1940, the stage play remained unseen by audiences until 1988 when it opened off-Broadway.

"A Cup of Coffee" follows the romantic and professional aspirations of a young sales rep named Jimmy McDonald. The story is set during the Depression, and coffee sales at Baxter's Best Coffee Company are in a slump. Jimmy is eager to put the company back on top, so he can marry his secretary, Tulip Jones, but his marketing ideas fall on deaf ears. Certain that his ideas are winners, Jimmy enters a rival company's slogan contest -- thereby setting into motion a flurry of events that test his ingenuity and loyalty to Baxter's Best and threaten his future with Tulip.

"It's a rare opportunity for audiences to see a production of a Preston Sturges play," says Stan Wojewodski Jr., artistic director of the Yale Rep and dean of the School of Drama. "Although rightly lauded for his brilliant work in film, Sturges shows us with 'A Cup of Coffee,' that he understood very well the different demands and strengths of the two media."

Joe Grifasi directed "Nobody's Fool" at New York's Chelsea Theatre and two productions in Toronto, "The Group of Seven and the Case of the Glowing Pine" at Tarragon Theatre and "Between Two Stools" at Pears Cabaret. He is also an actor, whose credits include the Broadway plays "The Mystery of Edwin Drood," "The Play's the Thing," "The Boys Next Door," "The 1940s Radio Hour" and "Happy End"; the films "Presumed Innocent," "Splash," "Batman Forever," "Benny & Joon" and "The Deerhunter"; and television appearances on "The Practice," "Homicide," "Law & Order," "Roseanne" and "Chicago Hope."

Michael Gross, who plays Bloodgood Baxter, one of the brothers to the floundering coffee company, may be best known for his role as Steven Keaton on the Emmy Award-winning television series "Family Ties." He is, however, also a veteran of many of America's regional theaters, who boasts a DramaLogue Award for the west coast premiere of "The Real Thing," a Drama Desk nomination for the Broadway premiere of "Bent" and an Obie Award for "No End of Blame." He has appeared in numerous television movies and the feature films "Big Business" and "Tremors," among others.

John Rothman, who portrays Oliver Baxter, appeared on Broadway in "Some Americans Abroad" and "Social Security," the latter directed by Mike Nichols. His off-Broadway credits include "Goodnight Children Everywhere" at Playwrights Horizons; Woody Allen, Elaine May and David Mamet's "Death Defying Acts"; and "The Impossible H.L. Mencken," which he wrote and starred in. His 20 films include "Devil's Advocate," "Purple Rose of Cairo," "Big" and "Sophie's Choice." He was a regular on the television series "Birdland," Stephen King's "Golden Years" and "Feds." Rothman's movies for television include "Separate But Equal," which received the Special Emmy.

Playing the young lovers, Jimmy and Tulip, are Brian Mysliwy and Kellie Overbey, who are both making their Yale Rep debuts in this play. Mysliwy was recently seen in Artpark's "Idols of the King" and starred off-Broadway in Second Stage Theatre's revival of Albert Innaurato's "Gemini." Overbey has appeared on Broadway in "Present Laughter" with Frank Langella and Steppenwolf Theatre Company's production of "Buried Child," directed by Gary Sinise, for which she received a 1996 FANY award for best Broadway debut. She will appear in the upcoming Woody Allen film "Sweet and Lowdown."

Rounding out the cast are Clement Fowler as Mr. Rasmussen, Vanessa David as the Youth, James Green as Lomax Whortleberry, George Hall as Ephraim Baxter, Michael Potts as Julius Snaith and local actors Derek Da Silva and Joe Tantalo as the Baxter's Best Coffee Crew.

The production staff for "A Cup of Coffee" includes David Swayze, scene designer; Jacqueline Firkins, costume designer; Stephen Strawbridge, lighting designer; David Budries, sound designer; and Anne T. Davidson and Wendy A. Weckwerth, production dramaturgs.

Performances of "A Cup of Coffee" are at 7 p.m. on Monday and 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, with 2 p.m. matinees on Saturdays, Dec. 4, 11 and 18, and on Wednesday, Dec. 15. Tickets range in price from $10 to $34. Discounted tickets are available for students, senior citizens and groups. Yale Rep season subscription packages are still available. For more information, call the
theater's box office at (203) 432-1234,
10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday.


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