So here we are in the second month of the new decade, and what have we seen in New York theater so far? Well, we’ve seen “Ragtime” and “Finian’s Rainbow” bite the dust, although the original cast album of “Finian’s” has just been released, with no show running to tie it into, but it’s better than nothing, I suppose. We’ve had the best play of 2009, “Circle, Mirror, Thansformation”, after three extensions at Playwrights Horizons, close, but the great news on that front is the play will certainly be a leading contender for this year’s Pulitzer Prize and playwright Annie Baker has another new play helmed by director Sam Gold opening this spring off-broadway at the Rattlestick Theatre with one of our favorite actors, Michael Chernus, in the cast of three. Still, it’s sad to see the end of the New York run of “Circle, Mirror…”, even though I managed to grab a pair of tickets for the final, goosebump-inducing performance on Jan. 31st. Out of towners, not to worry-eventually you’re going to get a regional production of this work at your local playhouse-it’s a piece that’s going to be produced everywhere for years to come. Write that down. Sadly, you probably won’t get to see the magnificent ensemble of Reed Birney,Tracee Chimo, Peter Friedman, Deidre O’Connell and Heidi Schreck. from the NYC cast. An ensemble assembled in heaven, that was.
So what else? Well, “Shrek” is gone, “Superior Donuts” is gone, “In The Next Room” also gone, and after enduring the train wreck that was the misbegotten and horribly miscast “Bye, Bye Birdie”, I can thankfully say, IT IS ALSO GONE. Upcoming? Well, there’s the good news. Alfred Molina is coming in the spring, playing artist Mark Rothko in the new play “Red”. British import “Enron” is on the way, with a cast of Broadway stalwarts, the new Green Day musical, “American Idiot” headed here from out west, Denzel Washington and the stunning Viola Davis in a revival of August Wilson’s “Fences” replacing “A View From The Bridge” at the Cort Theatre and Nathan Lane and the sublime Kevin Chamberlin as Gomez and Uncle Fester in the new Addams Family musical opus. Did I forget the Broadway return of Christopher Walken? Nope. And we’re not even mentioning off-Broadway, where the likes of John Pankow, Annie Parisse, John Cullum, Susan Stroman, Hugh Dancy, Matt Rauch and dozens of others will be heading soon.
As for playing right now, there’s a few productions out there worthy of your attention. I think “A View From The Bridge” is flawless Arthur Miller at his best, in fact, I include it in the roster of favorite Arthur Miller plays, a list that includes “All My Sons”, Incident At Vichy, and “The Crucible”. But “View” means a lot to me. I once accepted a two-minute walk-on in a production of the play, many years ago, just so I could say I got to appear in “A View From The Bridge”. My glare won raves. I demolished with a single glance. Anyway….in the current revival, it is Live Schrieber’s performance as Eddie Carbone that steals the spotlight. Schrieber is a fierce, electric actor, but this is a performance that eventually becomes the stuff of theater legend, the kind of tour de force that fuels cocktail party chitchat and dinner table anecdotes for years to come. He mesmerizes in the role of the twisted, torn longshoreman whose love for his niece goes outside normal boundaries, especially in Red Hook, Brooklyn in the 1950’s. Scarlett Johansson makes an impressive Broadway debut as Eddie’s niece Catherine, and the wonderful Michael Cristofer subtlely underplays the Greek chorus narrator, Alfieri, a role that could be a throwaway, but here played with relish and poignancy that anchors the entire production. His two scenes with Schrieber are like master classes. The run is limted because the actors have other commitments in the spring, and the “Fences” revival takes over the theatre in April, so there’s no guaranteeing this is going to come back once its limited run is over. In a perfect world, someone would make a movie utilizing this terrific cast, but as we all know, perfection is a mighty hard commodity these days….
Nicholas Martin’s lovely revival of Sir Noel Coward’s “Present Laughter” is also a limited run, and it seems astonishing that Roundabout Theatre Company could offer something so awful as “Bye Bye Birdie” and something so fresh and marvelous as “Present Laughter” in the same season, much less practically one after another. And yet here it is, director Martin’s heady and mirth-inducing concoction starring Victor Garber, he who’s been gone from the Broadway stage doing television and film for way way too long. This is the third production of the Coward comedy to play Broadway in the last 30 years, and I gotta say, although George C. Scott, Christine Lahti and Nathan Lane walked away with the 1982 production, and Frank Langella was delightfully snotty in the last one, it’s this new production that really hits all the right notes. Garber is all quicksilver and crankypants as matinee idol Gary Essendine, whose friends and fellow theaterfolk just won’t give a minute’s peace. Harriet Harris is just about perfect as his dutiful and doting secretary, and character actor extrordinaire Brooks Ashmanskas is riotous as playwright-cum-stalker Roland Maule, the role that shot Nathan Lane to fame back in 1982, before anyone knew who Nathan Lane was. May the same fate befall Mr. Ashmanskas. Martin is an underrated director, this revival shoots him into the same league as the best of them working out there at this moment, a position I’ve always thought he held anyway. Can’t wait for his revival of “You Can’t Take It With You”, a production he’s been promising for years. I’d say now’s about the right time.