Could it really be true there are 14 shows about to open on Broadway in the next eight weeks? After that first Sunday in January, when it seemed like a dozen shows closed in one fell swoop (ok, ok it was only 8), and the pessimists were predicting doom, doom, and oh yes, more doom, with a side order of glum, could there really be that many new shows coming in? Well, yes and no. There are new productions, yes, but many of these are revivals of stalwarts that have been sustaining theatre companies around the world for decades. In fact, one revival will have already opened by the time you read this and already those internet “critics” are predicting its demise. But no matter. You have stars like Jane Fonda, Jeremy Irons, Joan Allen, Carla Gugino, Brian Dennehy, Susan Sarandon, Geoffrey Rush, James Gandolfini, Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, Marcia Gay Harden, Angela Lansbury, Rupert Everett and more waiting in the wings or already in previews or about to begin preview performances. By the time the Tony awards roll around there could very well be only two empty theaters on Broadway. But all that will start in time for the April edition. Meanwhile, off-Broadway continues to thrive.
My current favorite among the off-Broadway offerings is a new play called “The Savannah Disputation”, now playing at Playwrights Horizons. It’s a simple little comedy that feels fresh as a March snowstorm and features four terrific performances by some very talented folks. Two sisters share a house in Savannah. One may be seriously ill, but we don’t know which one. They are devout Catholics. One is a widow. They invite the parish priest over once a week for dinner. One of them may have feelings for said priest. But we don’t know which one. And then, to their door, comes a young woman intent on converting them by insisting Catholics aren’t really Christians. One sister has invited her. The other threatens to call the cops. So that one sets up an innocent visit one night and invites the priest over without telling him why. BOOM! And I haven’t had so much fun in a long time. The production is one giant smile from beginning to end. The actresses are fabulous. They are Marylouise Burke, Dana Ivey and Kellie Overbey. The actor playing Father Murphy has been a particular favorite of mine since I first spotted him in the Broadway production of “Gemini” over 30 years ago. His name is Reed Birney and I have mentioned him in this space before. Do yourselves a favor. Anytime you read Mr. Birney is going to appear on stage in something, anything, just buy a ticket and go. With him in the cast, you’re sure to get your money’s worth. Oh, and bring the kids. Because he’s also an adult on “Gossip Girl”. Nonetheless, “Savannah Disputation” is worth your time.
There is much to celebrate over the thought of Cynthia Nixon back on stage here in NYC as well. She’s currently appearing in a new play called “Distracted” over at Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre, and although I think those with kids will appreciate the piece more than those whose brood has flown the coop, it’s a timely play about a subject rarely given attention on film or television: kids with ADD. At times heartbreaking, at times a touch too neat and/or facile, it nevertheless sports riveting performances from Nixon as the harried young mother and Josh Stamberg as her not-as-concerned spouse. There are probably way too many facts and figures to call this an even-handed treatise on an important subject, but the point that we are all suffering from attention deficits of one form or another comes through loud and clear. And Nixon is, as always, impeccable.
Finally, I want to thank and commend director Sam Mendes (you know him-wife Kate Winslet just won a Best Actress Oscar) for having the guts to create a company of British and American actors and to embark on a worldwide tour of two great plays in repertory, but even moreso for making the Brooklyn Academy of Music their first stop. The sublime productions of both “The Cherry Orchard” and “A Winter’s Tale” were a feast for the eyes and the ears, with language by Chekhov and Shakespeare spoken by some of the finest stage actors of two continents. We were blessed to have the amazing Simon Russell Beale, Sinead Cusack, Rebecca Hall, Richard Easton, Josh Hamilton, Ethan Hawke, and Mark Nelson on our Brooklyn stage for far too short a time. Here’s to their eventual return. Rumor has it their next season will consist of “The Three Sisters” and “As You Like It”. I cannot wait.