NEW YORK (AP) — John Lithgow is returning to the New York stage with gusto in 2014 — first with Shakespeare's "King Lear" in Central Park this summer and then in a Broadway revival of Edward Albee's "A Delicate Balance" by fall.
"They're two roles that I never intended to play in such proximity, but you can't turn them down," the two-time Tony Award winner said Thursday from Los Angeles. "It's a great paring of roles. They really couldn't be more different."
Lithgow will be joined in the Albee play by Glenn Close, Lindsay Duncan, Bob Balaban, Clare Higgins and Martha Plimpton. It will be directed by Pam MacKinnon, with previews beginning at the Golden Theatre on Oct. 20. Opening night is Nov. 20.
Albee's 1967 Pulitzer Prize-winning play first arrived on Broadway four years after his blistering "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and examines the stresses and strains of family and friendship.
Though he's never performed the play before, Lithgow has a long history with it. As a drama student in 1969, he coached the American accents for the Royal Shakespeare Company's British premiere production.
The new production will mark Close's return to the New York stage after a 20-year absence. She has won Tonys for "Sunset Boulevard," ''Death and the Maiden" and "The Real Thing." She and Lithgow will play the long-married couple at the center of the play — Agnes and Tobias.
The fireworks take place in the couple's well-appointed library and living room. Agnes frets — about losing her mind — and Tobias tries to comfort her. They live with her sister, Claire, a hard-boiled alcoholic.
Into this unhappy family comes Julia, the much-married daughter of Tobias and Agnes, who is fleeing her latest husband. Yet Julia can't reclaim her old bedroom. It is being occupied by Harry and Edna, two old friends of her parents.
Unlike the savagery of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" the play is more like a fever taking hold.
"It's a very haunting play," said Lithgow. "It's kind of a nightmare play where something seemingly so small gores into a kind of horror. In fact, the word 'horror' is used early on."
The new "A Delicate Balance" represents Lithgow's second big Albee project. He played George in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" with Albee directing in Los Angeles in 1989.
Lithgow, who also has three films coming out this year, said he can't really concentrate right now on the play since first up is "King Lear," which he is reciting while driving around Beverly Hills.
"People are wondering what in the world I'm yelling about," he said with a laugh.