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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on May 10, 2000. All rights reserved.
Review: Off-Broadway Round-up
So is it really news that Broadway is not being hospitable
to new plays this season? If you can give producers an E for effort
in bringing three new plays to Broadway this fall — "Voices
in the Dark," "Epic Proportions," and "Wrong Mountain,"
not one of them, in truth, had what it takes to make the public shell
out $60 for an orchestra seat. Earning mostly damning reviews and
negligible receipts, all three quietly folded.
A star-studded old play like Noel Coward’s "Waiting in the Wings"
(never produced on Broadway) and a not-so-old play, Arthur Miller’s
"The Ride Down Mount Morgan" (that premiered in London in
1991 and was seen Off-Broadway last season), will still be around
when the next wave of plays and musicals arrive to qualify for Tony
Award consideration. The only new American play opening is Elaine
May’s awful comedy, "Taller Than a Dwarf." Although the spring
roster is not as weighted with British imports as it was last season,
Michael Frayn’s "Copenhagen," and Martin Sherman’s "Rose,"
starring Olympia Dukakis, have arrived from successful London productions.
In the meantime, Off-Broadway is deep in new dramatic literature.
Although we have already reviewed such plays (now enjoying extended
runs) as "Fully Committed," "Dirty Blonde," and "Dinner
With Friends" (the 2000 Pulitzer Prize winner), some new arrivals
are worthy of consideration.
The chiller-thriller is not dead. It’s alive and dramatized
in exemplary fashion in Nancy Hasty’s "The Director." In this
tense and twisty attention-grabber, Peter (a mesmerizing performance
by John Shea), an avant-garde theater director, is mysteriously estranged
from the mainstream and lives as a recluse and working as a janitor
in a rehearsal hall. He is found and recruited by Annie (Tasha Lawrence),
a young woman playwright who wants him to direct her play. After a
meeting of minds about his unorthodox approach to her play, the director
casts the play with three actors willing to undergo a series of preparatory
acting exercises designed to sensitize them for their roles.
However puzzled, fearful, and insecure the actors are in the beginning,
they are drawn into the director’s macabre machinations, as they gradually
become his unwitting disciples. Things get really scary when the playwright
is hypnotically seduced by this "phantom of the rehearsal hall,"
while a rejected actor appears to terrorize them. This is a grip your
seat and don’t go into rehearsal with a director you don’t trust spellbinder.
Like an old radio show used to tell us, this is calculated to keep
you in suspense. And, under director Evan Bergman, it does. HH
York, 212-279-4200. $35.
Older people who attend "The Waverly Gallery"
will probably find this biographical memory play by Kenneth Lonergan
more distressing and stressful than younger people. The reason being
that older audiences will feel themselves a lot closer to Gladys Green
(Eileen Heckart), the play’s central character, an old woman whose
slowly disintegrating mind, increasingly senile behavior, and growing
incompetence is beginning to make her life difficult. Not nearly as
difficult, however as it makes her family, as they try to persuade
her to give up proprietorship of the small, insignificant art gallery
she has run in the village for many years, now marked for demolition.
The play is propelled by the narration of Gladys’ grandson Howard
(Mark Blum), whose memories selectively take us from the gallery to
the upper East Side home of his mother Ellen (Maureen Anderman) and
Daniel his step-father (Josh Hamilton) and to his and Gladys’ virtually
adjoining Village apartments. Although the play is characterized by
the family’s frustrating, often funny, attempts to keep their conversations
from repeating themselves and their lives from being completely ruled
by their concerns for Gladys, the playwright makes it clear that he
is paying a loving tribute to the last days of his grandmother. When
Gladys allows Don (Anthony Arkin), a not very good, but sweet, young
artist from New England to put up his art, she also allows him to
move into a small back room.
Don may not sell any of his painting, but he quickly comes to like
the old woman and soon begins to act a member of the family. No, there
is nothing sinister about Don, who is somewhat of a naive. And no,
there is no more point to the play than the steps we take, as we watch
the inevitable happen to those we love. Lonergan’s play is neither
revelatory nor particularly consequential, but it is related and performed
with a generosity of spirit and heart that one can only respond to
with admiration. Any opportunity to see Oscar, Emmy and Drama Critics
Award-winning and Tony-nominated Heckart take on the daunting task
of senility (while maintaining a clear head at her age) should be
taken. It’s a gem of a performance, full of subtle surprises. Otherwise,
under Scott Ellis’ direction, there isn’t much that will surprise
you, only affect you. HH
at 76 Street, 212-239-6200. $40-$55.
— Simon Saltzman
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