Back in late spring, Lee Blessing's Cobb received good-to-excellent reviews in its Off-Broadway debut at the Melting Pot Theatre. Even so, up against the crunch of late-season Broadway entries, the baseball-based drama might have slipped by relatively unnoticed except for a particularly enthusiastic fan: Kevin Spacey. He came to see the production to catch actor Matthew Mabe, who had been in The Iceman Cometh company. Spacey apparently liked the show so much that when Cobb was set to end its limited run May 20, he whipped out a checkbook and essentially paid for a two-week extension, to June 4.
Spacey wouldn't tell the New York Times how much he gave, but he did say he was eager to get producers and industry people to see the production. "It's the kind of theatre I like to encourage," Spacey told the Times at the time. "I don't mind kicking up a little dust to get people to pay attention to something like this."
Well, Spacey is now kicking it up with all his spikes. As reported in mid mid-September, he's co-producing a commercial remount of Cobb. The show has set its opening date at the Lucille Lortel Theatre Nov. 8, after previews starting Oct. 26. The Melting Pot Theatre Company is producing, by arrangement with Spacey and Trigger Street Productions (Spacey's production company). The piece is based on the life and attitudes of ornery baseball legend Ty Cobb.
By all accounts he was a racist and a jerk -- and a helluva ball player. Cobb looks at its subject, an early Hall of Fame inductee, through three stages of his life. Though he’s best remembered for his hustle and quality with the Detroit Tigers (where he was nicknamed “The Georgia Peach”), he had a nasty and prejudiced side to make John Rocker look like Mr. Rogers. The outfielder played with the Tigers from 1905-26 (managing them for the last six of those years), and then played two years for the Philadelphia Athletics. Cobb’s lifetime batting average was .367; most good-hitting ball players are lucky to make over .320.
Playing the three Cobbs in Blessing’s drama at the Melting Pot were Michael Cullen, Matt Mabe and Michael Sabatino. Clark Jackson played an athlete in the Negro League. All four actors will return for the Lortel production, with Joe Brancato again directing. Designing the show at Melting Pot were Matt Maraffi (set), Daryl A. Stone (costumes) and Jeff Nelis (lighting).
Author Blessing was last represented Off Broadway by Chesapeake but is best known for the regionally popular Eleemosynary and the Broadway comedy-drama A Walk in the Woods. The Blessing booking ends speculation about the 299-seat Lucille Lortel Theatre, which, despite a venue crunch, has been empty since Noel Coward: Suite in Two Keys shuttered in early spring.
As for the Melting Pot's home space, the company will premiere A Child's Garden musical based on writings of Robert Louis Stevenson. Written by Art Perlman (Wings), Charlotte Maier and Louis Rosen, with Rosen serving as composer and lyricist, the show starts previews Dec. 5 and opens Dec. 10. Lori Steinberg (Oy!, Ice Island) directs. Robert LaFosse (NYC Ballet, Jerome Robbins' Broadway) will choreograph. Company spokesperson Darren Press also noted that Melting Pot is still looking to remount their popular revue, Woody Guthrie's American Song. "Nothing to announce yet," Press told PBOL, "But we're close."
-- By David Lefkowitz
and Kenneth Jones