Season of the Reconstituted Flop

Every season has an unforseen focus, and this year’s is… flops! No fewer than four high profile revivals (or “revisals” as they’re sometimes called) have taken up the task of reworking formerly unsuccessful material. I’m thinking of…

— On A Clear Day You Can See Forever,
— Merrily We Roll Along,
— Newsies,

each of which bombed artistically and financially its first go round, each of which features new and reworked material in its latest incarnation. (Newsies, it should be noted, first appeared as a film, but was Broadway musical through and through.)

These unconventional titles make for interesting alternatives to the standard lineup of revivals, yet neither the reworked Merrily nor Clear Day made for a hit. Will Carrie or Newsies change that tune?

We shall see!


The “Carrie” Counter

File this under “too amazing for words:”

Black lace souvenir corsages are for sale at Carrie, in revival at MCC. (Yes, that Carrie.)

And now everything is right with the world.


The Spring Season: Start Your Engines

The Spring season kinda already began, but hey, it’s still worth flipping through the listings to get excited. There’s a huge swath of tantalizing work, so these are just a few of the plays I’m excited to see, in no particular order. Note your own picks in the “comments” section!

1. Death of a Salesman I mean, obviously: Few shows are a sure thing, but this Salesman, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, seems pretty unassailable. I’m especially excited to see the original, Joe Mielziner set that this production is using.

2. The Big Meal Director Sam Gold has worked nonstop this year, and with good reason: his shows are always honest and surprising. The Big Meal, a multi-generational family play, is Gold’s collaboration with with Dan LeFranc, and will (hopefully) match up to his other work this season.

3. Newsies All sources say Disney’s done good by this Broadway adaptation of its flop-movie-musical, and I’m already excited about hearing the money note in “Santa Fe.” (Don’t lie, you know what I’m talking about…)

4. The Maids Red Bull Theater takes on this enormously difficult absurdist text, the strangeness of which is bound to make for a compelling and freaky evening.

5. Clybourne Park — This Broadway transfer has stirred quite the backstage hubbub, but Bruce Norris’ gentrification play would be pretty incendiary even without all the crazy producer drama. And that Pulitzer Prize doesn’t exactly hurt.

6. Nice Work if You Can Get It — George Gershwin, Kelli O’Hara and Matthew Broderick? Done, done and done.

7. An Early History of Fire — David Rabe teams up with a certain Lily Rabe on this New Group world premiere. Advance plot details are scant, but Rabe (the dad) is always angry and exhilarating.

More off-off-Broadway excitement will reveal itself as the weeks wear on (downtown hits generally give less notice), but these titles should do for now.

And you kind sir/fair madame? Where will you be parking yourself Spring 2012?

photo by theater-words

Can’t Act, Can’t Sing, Can “Perform”


All to often, avant-garde theater fetishizes performers of limited ability.

It’s a shrewd act: When actors self-consciously drone through lines, or affect melodrama or fall into stereotype, they evade notions of quality because bad acting is precisely the point of their work. Dramaturges pass performers’ limitations off as a formal choice that “draws attention to the text,” “reveals the falseness of society” or “unifies the play’s aesthetic,” but the fact remains: the performers just ain’t got skills.

Critics are complicit. When they praise experimental work, they do so “within the framework of the avant-garde’s goals and values” without questioning those goals or values.

Ineptitude might be fun/funny every now and then, but let’s not hang an art form on it!

Books + Theater = Heaven

A bookstore in an old theater? It doesn’t get much better than that. Behold, Librería El Ateneo Grand Splendid in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Thanks to The Little Design Stall for digging up these gorgeous images.)


Dramatic, End-of-Play Set Change

Theresa Rebeck's "Seminar," on Broadway

Trendsetting alert!

Seminar is the latest straight play to employ a scenic device popular around town these days: The Dramatic, End-of-Play Set Change. A DEOPSC (as it is popularly known) occurs at a climactic storytelling moment when a formerly unchanging set disappears or unexpectedly moves, thus expensively symbolizing Momentous Change and Revelation.

In Seminar, the DEOPSC occurrs when Lily Rabe’s rent-controlled palace evaporates into the flies to expose Alan Rickman’s beautifully book-stuffed, downtown pad. True to form, “ahhhhh!!!” goes the scenery-starved audience.

Other DEOPSC’s from recent memory have appeared in:

The Mountaintop (disappearing hotel rooms!)
In the Wake (receding apartments!)
Close Up Space (evaporating offices!)

Any others you can think of?

JK Rowling Loves Stephen Sondheim

"Merrily We Roll Along" = "Harry Potter"

Try this one on for size:

Merrily We Roll Along is the Harry Potter of musicals.

Stop that eyerolling!

Ok, ok, there’s no wand action in the legendary Sondheim flop (now at Encores!), but Merrily and Harry share some telling similarities, most importantly this: they both star an intrepid trio of perfectly matching personalities.

Hear me out!

Merrily’s Frank Shepard lines up perfectly with Harry Potter himself—he’s charismatic, talented—the “leading man.” Charley, then, is Ron, all funny best-friend and second fiddle. And Mary is Hermione, a bookish shot of estrogen brokering peace whenever need be.

But that’s not all! Hermione/Mary also secretly pines for Ron/Charley (though only in Harry Potter does that romance blossom). And Hogwarts, Harry‘s wizarding school, functions much like New York City in Merrily: It’s a place to make your way in the world, to escape danger and to do grand adventures with your friends.

Clearly, JK Rowling is a Merrily fanatic and thought she’d make a stab at fixing the famously flawed show on her own terms.


“Brothers and Sisters:” LIVE!

Rachel Griffiths and Matthew Rhys on "Brothers and Sisters"

Fans of TV’s “Brothers and Sisters”—yours truly included—now have a thrilling double shot at catching Matthew Rhys (“Scotty”) or Rachel Griffiths (“Sarah”) live and in the flesh. Rhys trades sweetness for sting in Look Back in Anger, at the Roundabout, while Griffiths rides a tell-all memoir to Broadway in Other Desert Cities. TV celebs don’t usually make good by their stage roles, but this situation is different. Why?

1- Griffiths and Rhys earned theater cred before going to Hollywood;
2- they’re perfect for their parts; and,
3- “Brothers and Sisters” was just that good. Sue me.

Griffiths had this to say about doing theater: “It really is our penance for taking the money in television. I’m a Roman Catholic, and [Rhys] is a Welsh Methodist. You must repent. Got to go kneel in the cathedral of the theater.” (NY Times, 1/19/12)

Repentance, then, involves a lot of fury and despair: Both Other Desert Cities and Look Back in Anger light huge fires under fraught family fracas, then bathe in the ensuing sparks. “Jimmy,” Rhys’ character, is cooped up in a 1950s London flat and endlessly condemns the world on personal and political levels. “Brooke” (Griffiths), a writer, is unsure about exposing the secrets of her Palm Springs family and dances around her right-wing parents like an anxious minesweeper. In both plays, tears are shed, papers are thrown, souls are burned. And yes, it’s all pretty wonderful.

[Read more…]

Drifting Awake

Stone Street, hiding between towers

Just when your daily commute seems so predictable—when internal GPS takes over and nary a blaring traffic snarl can lift your gaze; when New York becomes nothing more than work and subways and sleep—that’s when the city throws a curveball and bends unexpectedly, when, POW!, a shocking, wonderful incongruity sprouts from the pavement and startles you into smelling the organic, fair-trade artisan coffee.

Take one false step in the roaring canyons of the Financial District and you’ll find yourself on one such jarring sprout. “Stone Street,” as it’s called, is a tiny 19th century holdout amidst the soaring corporate jungle on Manhattan’s lower tip, a bizarre slice of human-scale antiquity that sticks out like a small, cobblestoned thumb. No more than a few blocks of old-world, three- to six-story brick buildings, Stone Street is less remarkable for its quaint charm than for the way it contrasts with its infinitely taller and more severe neighbors. How did this place survive? you think on your way to, say, Goldman Sachs. What kept the skyscrapers out?

It was, predictably, a combination of public and private efforts that kept Stone Street from total decay on the one hand, and expensive construction crews on the other—read more about that story here. What remains, then, is a remnant of the haunts from Dutch settlers and the generations of builders that followed them.

But somewhere along the way, as other streets kept changing, Stone Street froze, and what’s left behind is a kind of screwy anachronism, a visual lesson in mankind’s endless sprint from past to future. Inviting stoops here, 100-story pillars there—a clear reality gives way to an odd optic scramble.

Such is the stuff as plays are made on. Mission Drift, the latest work from The TEAM, is a mixed-drink of a show with a similarly bi-cultural, split-focus sensibility, one part 17th century New Amsterdam, one part 2008 Las Vegas. In this rock musical, the story of a Dutch couple (“Catalina” and “Joris”) gets intercut with the more modern blues of an unemployed waitress (“Joan”); the resulting patchwork is a stab at determining the roots and nature of American capitalism.

[Read more…]

One Year of Theater-Words!

Huzzah! The card’s a week late, but who gives a fig: Theater-Words is one year old! It’s been 365 days of fun/ strange/ overwrought theater commentary, for which I thank you, you denizens of nameless, wonderful, reading people.

Keep checking back for the latest, or subscribe by entering your email address on the left sidebar. You won’t be disappointed.

Here’s to the year ahead.


%d bloggers like this: