Corrections or additions?
This article by Simon Saltzman
was prepared for the December 19, 2001 edition
of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
2001: The Attack on Broadway
The events of the last quarter of 2001 not only defined
the year for the nation but also for Broadway. Looking beyond the
immediate aftermath of September 11, when the theaters were dark,
Broadway has, despite the economic downturn, rebounded. It currently
reports only a five percent drop in attendance from last year’s record
Thus, as the year comes to a close, we have much to be thankful for.
While it is true that tourism is down by more than 50 percent, a
study by the League of American Theaters and Producers indicates that
there has been a comparable increase of 50 percent in the number of
New Yorkers and New York area residents at the theaters. In fact,
the bridge and tunnel crowd has increased by an impressive 16 percent.
Another figure to encourage last-minute ticket buyers is that 50
of all Broadway tickets were being purchased within a week of
Going by past precedent, theatergoing has always increased during
times of depression and recession. Unfortunately, Off-Broadway shows
and the smaller theater companies below 14th Street have had a much
harder time attracting audiences. Nevertheless, based on my recent
visits to theaters, large and small, uptown and downtown, it is
that people want to be together, to attend live theater together.
So what gift could be better than a gift of Broadway for the holidays?
One way to give is through a gift certificate for tickets to a
show via the Internet. Each certificate costs $105 and can be used
for as many tickets as can be bought for that price. The certificates
can be sent to you or the recipient by e-mail or by regular mail.
To order, go to www.broadway.com
Among shows currently running on and off Broadway that I can recommend
many can be found discounted, (25 to 50 percent off), to be used only
on the day of purchase, at the TKTS booth at Duffy Square (46th Street
and Broadway). Matinee tickets go on sale at noon, and evening tickets
at 3 p.m.
So if you can’t get tickets to "The Lion King," don’t forget
the other long running Disney musical "Beauty and the Beast"
for pleasurable holiday entertainment. You also can’t go wrong with
the splendid revivals of "42nd Street," "Chicago,"
"Kiss Me Kate," and "The Music Man." Families with
teenagers and above will not be disappointed with the gloriously
"Contact," the still gripping "Cabaret," and the rock
music charged "Rent" and "Rocky Horror Show." "The
Full Monty" continues to give its many voyeurs a charge.
Straight plays that offer a fair share of laughs include "Noises
Off," and "The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife." Solid
dramas include two classic dramas "Hedda Gabber" and
of Death," plus the 2001 Pulitzer Prize-winner, "Proof."
Among my personal favorites (don’t be put off by the title) is
a riotously funny satire. There’s also the wickedly hilarious and
successful show "The Producers." On the night I saw "The
Producers," there was an empty seat between me and a woman in
the next seat. She turned to me apologetically to say, "I know.
It’s a shame, but my husband couldn’t make it." I asked her why
she didn’t bring a friend. She answered, "She decided to go to
a funeral instead." I asked who’s funeral. Her answer: "My
Recommended Off-Broadway shows include, the Irish Repertory’s "The
Streets of New York," a delightful family musical based on the
19th-century play by Dion Bousicault; the long-running performance
piece "Blue Man Group," and the sound and rhythm-propelled
"Stomp;" the dynamic "Elaine Stritch: At Liberty,"
and Mary Zimmerman’s magical staging of Ovid’s
A stunning production of "Othello," at the Public Theater
and a memorable musical by "Rent" composer Jonathan Larson,
"Tick tick Boom!," are also must-sees. Happy Holidays.
If there are skeletons to be found in a family’s closet
you can count on Richard Greenberg to exhume them. Two of his many
excellent plays, the Pulitzer Prize-nominated "Three Days of
and "Safe as Houses" (that had its world premiere at the
Theater in March 1998), are notable for their generation-bridging
tremors and traumas.
With the new "Everett Beekin," Greenberg shows a concern for
the fate of a Jewish family living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan
in the 1940s. If Greenberg makes them amusing to listen to and watch
as they move from point A to point B., we are left wondering why their
lives should matter to us, and why the point and purpose of everything
they say and do seems so obscure and strangely elusive.
This family saga is hampered by not revealing anything that is either
dramatically provocative or tantalizing. A cleverly glib, fast-paced
and rather short first act introduces us to grim and grousing widow
(Marsh Jean Kurtz); her two oldest and always squabbling married
Sophie (Robin Bartlett) and Anna (Bebe Neuwirth); Jimmy (Kevin Isola),
an unwelcome Gentile suitor, and Miri (Jennifer Carpenter) his sickly
fiancee, the third and youngest sister. Sophie’s husband Jack (Jeff
Allin) is also present for a spell but is a man of few words.
Act II jumps forward 50 years to the present. The scene is a beach
in Orange County, California. Here we see Anna’s now grownup daughters
Celia (Bartlett) and Nell (Neuwirth) carrying on a family trait of
bickering. It is on the night before Nell’s daughter Laurel’s
wedding that the connection that ties the long dead Aunt Miri’s suitor
Jimmy to Nell’s lover Bee (Allin), who is also Laurel’s naive fiance
Ev’s (Isola) father is discovered. All this is not nearly as complex
or convoluted in the unfolding. But during the course and even at
the end of the play you may wonder why it all matters and why we
Greenberg captures most effectively the spirit and flavor of Jewish
home life in the opening scene as well as air-headed flavor of
California-speak. Kurtz (who also plays a waitress in Act II) is
in Act I, as she redirects the hate she has for her husband toward
Jimmy just because he is a Gentile. Bartlett is effective as the more
cynical Sophie in Act I and the more embittered and jaded Celia in
the present. As Anna, Neuwirth is compliant yet sassy. This, in
to being amusingly affected, as the well-heeled Nell. Isola get points
as the determined young suitor in Act I, whose plan is to take the
ailing Miri (Jennifer Carpenter) with him to Orange County, California
and get married. Jimmy has big plans to go into a pharmaceutical
partnership with (the unseen) Everett Beekin. While harboring no hate,
the gently sparring Sophie and Anna are keen on exercising their
and their curiosity with this appealing goy.
There is a flippant and funny side to the friendly war between Sophie,
who has been unable to conceive and Anna who is three months pregnant
and their belief that the bedridden Miri is not sick but avoiding
them. Ma, whose idiosyncrasies include washing and drying all money
that comes into her hands, gives her hands another workout when she
physically assaults Jimmy in a rather farcical manner.
The sisters do their best to be supportive of the firmly committed
Jimmy. There is a touch of soap opera in evidence here to the extent
that the relationships and the events being tied together are
but are also vague and even made rather inconsequential with time.
It is to Greenberg’s credit that we stay curious about the characters
hoping that they will all somehow make us care and possibly ponder
how the fickle finger of fate directed and determined the paths their
lives would take. It doesn’t quite happen that way. Except for the
excellent acting by everyone and Evan Yionoulis’ savvy direction,
the prescribed course seems both over contrived and under explored
making the resolve unsatisfying. Set designer Christopher Barreca’s
1940s kitchen has the cooked-in look while his Pacific Ocean setting
has a nicely abstracted living near it look. Kudos to Teresa
costumes that jump the decades from frumpy to fantastic with flair
to spare. Two stars. Maybe you should have stayed home.
— Simon Saltzman
66th & Broadway For tickets call 212-362-7600. Runs through January
There is comedy and chaos aplenty on the stage of the
Grand Theater in Weston-super-Mare, England. It is in Michael Frayn’s
meticulously crafted farce "Noises Off" that we are
across the sea for a look in at the rehearsal of a sex farce called
"Nothing On." Here a second-rate (to give them more credit
than they deserve) troupe of actors is attempting, during a final
frantic dress rehearsal, to tie up the loose ends (too many to list
here) before curtain time. Helping them do just that is Lloyd Dallas
(played with a hilariously tortured countenance by Peter Gallagher).
That you may have seen this classic antic-filled comedy before is
not necessarily to have seen it at its best. Jeremy Sams’ staging,
that had a great success earlier this year in London, is a welcome
addition to the Broadway line-up. Forgive me if I feel it still isn’t
the uproarious entertainment that its premise suggests. However, we
can only put some of the blame for any lapses of fun on this mostly
expert company of farceurs.
If you do survive the test of a rather tedious first act, comical
rewards do eventually appear. The play’s plodding exposition is
designed to prepare us for the remaining two acts (now mercifully
played without an additional intermission).
In Act II, the play’s action moves on to the company’s next stop on
its provincial tour, viewed from a backstage perspective. Animosities,
hurt feelings, misunderstandings, and a general disregard for their
performing art become, for Frayn’s inane characters, a zany excuse
for a silent-movie-style charade of pratfalls, booby traps, and
executed sight gags that spill over directly to the performance in
progress. As you might expect, innumerable bedroom, closet, and other
extraneous doors — all with either faulty knobs, latches, or
— are the attention-grabbing elements in designer Robert Jones’
ingeniously made-for-travelling set. But you’ll want to keep both
eyes fixed on the inevitable appearance and disappearance of naughty
lingerie and fallen trousers, the split-second entrances and exits,
as well as missed cues and misplaced props.
Not to be upstaged is an increasingly menacing plate of sardines,
a treacherous cactus plant, and an almost animated telephone receiver,
that have all been called into service. The fun of this type of farce
is to watch the ingenuity of a company hell bent on a kamikaze course,
while we, the audience, having almost memorized by this time the one-
and two-syllable script, respond predictably to the utter confusion.
Out to get each other short of murder most foul, the troupe in Act
III is about to give a Wednesday matinee during the last leg of its
tour. As members of the audience at the Municipal Theater,
we finally get to see a "regular" performance of "Nothing
On," as it hurtles toward self-destruction.
As was evidenced in the recent Royal National Theatre production,
Sams’ direction makes as much (non)sense out of the seemingly, but
obviously not, senseless script, as can be expected. From my
his detailed staging is only compromised by one less than stellar
performance. As Dotty Otley, the troupe’s producer who is concurrently
playing the role of a maid and having an affair with the juvenile
lead, Patti Lupone is, while visibly a bundle of insecurities and
audience-pandering posing, is also for the most part unintelligible.
Tackling their backstage flings with more rib-tickling flair are
McCarthy as Garry Lejeune, Dotty’s romantic interest, who can’t
a thought or a sentence; Katie Finneran, as Brooke Ashton, the
ditsy girlfriend, who drops her dress as frequently as her contact
lenses; and Robin Weigert, as Poppy Norton-Taylor, the harried stage
manager and director’s ex-love interest. T.R. Knight is particularly
endearing as Tim Algood, the terminally nonplused, put-upon assistant
stage manager cum understudy.
Alternately hitting and missing their full comic potential are Edward
Hibbert, as the dimwitted Frederick Fellow, who keeps insisting on
plausible motivations for his character; Faith Prince, as Belinda
Blair, the company troublemaker (like it needed one); and Richard
Easton, the alcoholic old trouper, who wanders through the action
with dazed senile assurance. If in the end, the show’s set appears
sturdier than the farce it supports, "Noises Off" is well
propelled by enough silly goings on to help you carry on. Two stars.
should have stayed home.
— Simon Saltzman
$75. Ticketmaster, 800-755-4000 or 212-307-4100.
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