When Marshall Mason left Arizona two years ago, retiring from his post in Arizona State University’s theater department and heading for his beautiful seasonal home in Mazatlan, Mexico, few — including Mason himself — expected the acclaimed director to return.
So why’s he back?
“I ask myself that every morning before I go to rehearsals,” Mason says, flashing a wry grin over his lunch of enchiladas and a Corona.
The director — who first rose to prominence with his influential off-Broadway Circle Repertory Company in the 1970s and earned five Tony Award nominations — has been in active retirement, traveling between his homes in Mazatlan and New York, finishing a book on directing, “Creating Life on Stage,” due out in June, and developing his memoirs (tentative title: “Dropping Names”).
A stint directing Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” for a regional stage in St. Louis — 46 years after making his directorial debut with the play — was to signal his retirement from directing.
And then Actors Theatre called.
Mason admits he’s accustomed to taking bigger gigs. But the opportunity to drop the dramatic depth charge of Edward Albee’s 2002 Tonywinning play “The Goat or, Who is Sylvia?” on Valley audiences proved ultimately irresistible.
“It ruined my whole symmetrical life,” Mason says.
GETTING HIS ‘GOAT’
Mason was set to direct “The Goat” at a larger regional theater but had a falling out over casting choices. (The artistic director, it seems, wanted to play the husband.)
For Actors Theatre, Mason has assembled a cast that includes two Circle Rep alums, Los Angeles actress Karen S. Gregan and New York’s Randy Noojin, in the leads, with locals Steven Ackley and Harold Dixon playing the teen son and the husband’s best friend, respectively.
It’s a cast Mason is confident can bring to life what he considers to be one of the finest dramas of contemporary theater — the creative apex for Albee, the playwright behind “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and a personal friend of Mason’s.
“I told (Albee) I thought this was his best play,” Mason says, “and he didn’t disagree with me.”
A living room drama much in line with “Woolf,” “The Goat” centers around a successful, wealthy architect whose affair with a goat — a love he sees with innocent eyes — explodes and sends his small family (a headstrong wife and their gay teenage son) reeling in ways that range from terribly funny to emotionally devastating.
But if it’s Albee’s best, it’s also one of his trickiest to pull off right.
“The demands of this play,” Mason concedes, “are excruciating.”
For Mason, it seems, staging “The Goat” means less about putting his own personal stamp on the play than simply getting all the elements right
“It’s not about goat-(expletive),” Mason says. “Albee’s writing about betrayal, about crossing boundaries.”
‘The Goat or, Who is Sylvia?’
When: Opening 8 p.m. Friday, running various dates and times, closing May 14
Where: Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe St., Phoenix
Information: (602) 252-8497 or www.actorstheatrephx.org