When I returned from my 2 weeks in London, I was awaiting the start of the new theater season here in NYC with well-baited breath. After so many disappointments at the end of last season, I was really looking forward to the beginning of a brand new page in the book of NY theater. I mean, can someone honestly explain to me how a well received play can come into this city from a prestigious London theatre company like the Donmar Warehouse for what is ostensibly a limited run, then go on to win SIX Tony Awards, including one for Best Play, then run for two more weeks and just like that, close???
You mean to tell me the producers never considered the possibility this major new play might actually take a few prizes, thereby making it a hot ticket for at least another year, no matter what actors were starring in it? Despite the fact that one of its actors won a featured actor award, and couldn’t continue because of other commitments, there was no other actor in the whole city of New York to replace him? Or in any other city in the country? Because the director had to return to London to direct another play at another British company, he couldn’t spare a few weeks to rehearse two more Americans to replace the two wonderful Brits who had to leave? Or was it simply that the producers had made their money back and had no need to recast their play, because after all, isn’t that what the heart of theater is all about? The almighty buck? Isn’t that the reason everyone dedicated to this business of art gets into the business in the first place-not to broaden their and others’ horizons, not to engage their and others’ souls and hearts and minds…but JUST SIMPLY to make their money back? Well congratulations to the people behind the masterful piece of theater that was “Red”. You achieved your goal. You made your money back and in doing so, closed a Tony award winning play that thousands upon thousands of theatregoers probably would have liked to have experienced for themselves. But hey, there were no other actors to fill the roles and no one to direct them. Perfectly understandable. And absolutely bogus.
And then there was the complete disregard for the best musical of the season, which was and still is, “American Idiot”. Did no one understand it? Did no one see this was the most original piece of musical theatre to come down the pike in many a season. And to completely ignore Michael Mayer, the show’s director, who showed the most ingenuity of any director last season, by not even nominating him for a Tony Award?
And so now, we lurch into another season of limited runs with big name stars engineered to make as much money in as little time as possible, thereby creating another empty theatre to fill with more big name stars so the money men can charge as much as they can even if the stars might not be perfect or even right for their roles? But who am I to judge? Maybe Nicole Kidman will make an absolutely great ,faded, alcoholic movie star in a revival of “Sweet Bird Of Youth”, a Tennessee Williams play not seen on Broadway since the mid 70’s, when it starred Christopher Walken and Irene Worth and last about three weeks. What? Miss Kidman is too young for the role? We can fix that-we can cast a hustler-lothario opposite her who’s even younger than Miss Kidman. Maybe Justin Bieber will be available. That should be worth $150 a ticket, yes? And will they come? Oh yes, I guarantee you they will come.
Perhaps Philip Seymour Hoffman will make a terrific Willy Loman. Someday. But isn’t he a little young for the role now? I can see him as Biff, Willy’s son, but as Willy? Someone has pointed out Lee J. Cobb was only 38 when he created the role, but Lee J. Cobb looked about 75 when he was in his teens. Same with George C. Scott, who to this day, remains the best Willy Loman I have ever seen. He was probably in his late 40’s when he assayed the role, but no one ever accused George C. Scott of looking too young in anything. But hey, Philip Seymour Hoffman is a terrific actor. He just might pull it off.
But I think of the disappointment that was Dustin Hoffman in “Death Of A Salesman”, in a production that was mainly notable for Kate Reid as Linda, John Malkovitch as Biff and Stephen Lang as Happy. Those three were astonishing. But in my eyes, Mr. Hoffman looked like the kid who put gray stuff in his hair and learned to shuffle to play the grandfather in “You Can’t Take It With You” back in high school. Granted, Dustin Hoffman is a much better actor, but in that “Death Of A Salesman”, all I could see was a youngish actor with gray stuff in his hair doing the shuffle. Maybe I’m in a minority on this, but it’s what I saw. Did he have power? Absolutely. Did I believe a moment of it? Sadly, no.And by the way, will I shell out the big bucks to see the masterful Vanessa Redgrave and the powerhouse James Earl Jones in the Broadway debut of off-Broadway’s Pulitzer Prize winning “Driving Miss Daisy”? In a word-nope.
I did have a good time at the Broadway debut of David Mamet’s “A Life In The Theatre”, now playing in a limited engagement through the end of the year. But I also had mixed emotions at seeing something so soul-stirring, so simple and so heartfelt as this lovely valentine to the theatre in an oversize production whose scene changes just about kill its intimacy, when I have such fond memories of a small. wondrous original production that played the Lucille Lortel Theatre back in 1978 with the heartbreaking duo of the late Ellis Rabb and the late Peter Evans as the two actors working in close quarters somewhere in the regional theater hinterlands. The two actors are now played by Patrick Stewart, who is just beautiful as the older, fading actor Robert, and T.R. Knight, every bit Stewart’s equal as the up and coming and possibly more talented actor John. Neal Pepe has done a bang-up job with these actors and does justice to the play, but, OH, how I long for the simplicity and the crushing intimacy of that perfect production 32 years ago. Back when I could afford to see it four times in its own “limited run”.