`The Director’

`The Waverly Gallery’

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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on May 10, 2000. All rights reserved.

Review: Off-Broadway Round-up

E-mail: SimonSaltzman@princetoninfo.com

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.

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`The Director’

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

The Director, Arclight Theater, 152 West 71 Street, New

York, 212-279-4200. $35.

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`The Waverly Gallery’

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

The Waverly Gallery, Promenade Theater, 2162 Broadway

at 76 Street, 212-239-6200. $40-$55.

— Simon Saltzman

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