The producers of Broadway's Wrong Mountain aren't letting mixed reviews and poor grosses (so far) stop them from giving the show a chance to build. According to a Boneau/Bryan-Brown office spokesperson, David Hirson's comedy is engaging its audiences with post-show "Talk Backs" and offering $25 seats to any member of an entertainment union (including SAG, AFTRA, Equity, IATSE, etc.).
Much of the play is taken up with arguments between a poet, who espouses the high art of verse while spitting on the low craft of playwriting, and theatre folk who understand the blessings of live drama. At play's end, a poem written by the "changed" protagonist, is projected on the curtain, causing audiences to stay in their seats, read and mull over the sentiments, rather than make their usual quick dash for the exits. Discussions soon ensued, and, since author David Hirson has attended nearly every performance so far, he's naturally gotten involved with the discussions. Boneau/Bryan-Brown spokesperson Susanne Tighe told Playbill On-Line the producers figured they might as well formalize the proceedings, so now they're having official Talk Backs after every show, generally with Hirson, though it's possible cast members will participate as well.
Ron Rifkin and Daniel Jenkins star in Wrong Mountain, which began previews Dec. 27 and opened Jan. 13, 2000 at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre
Directed by Richard Jones, this new work by the author of La Bete boasts a number of recent Broadway performers, among them Rifkin (Cabaret), Jenkins (Big) and Ilana Levine (You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown). Tom Riis Farrell (1776) is also in the cast, alongside Beth Dixon, Michael Winters, Bruce Norris (La Terrasse), Reg Flowers, Daniel Davis, Jody Gelb, Anne Dudek and Mary Schmidtberger.
Initially, the play was to start Dec. 4 and open Dec. 14, but producer Michael David said in a statement the change was made so that Wrong Mountain wouldn't get "lost in a rash of openings all trying to get in before the millennial excitement." One assumes the delay also allowed more time to finesse the script and staging, which met with mixed reviews and positive but not quite enthusiastic audience response on the West Coast. Mountain tried out at American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, Oct. 21-Nov. 21, where changes included the excising of one character: a baby, played by actress Pippa Pearthree, who left the production early on. ACT spokesperson Michael Hicks told Playbill On-Line that Hirson has done significant cutting and changing of the script, with the result that the show is "generally tighter."
As for the cast, Rifkin, a veteran stage and television actor, saw his career accelerate after his acclaimed performance in The Substance of Fire. Since then he's won a Tony for his work in the Roundabout's Cabaret. His other Broadway roles include A Month In The Country and Broken Glass.
Actress Levine was relatively unknown until she was picked to play Lucy in last season's revival of You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown. She also appeared on Broadway in Alfred Uhry's The Last Night of Ballyhoo.
Designing Wrong Mountain are Giles Cadle (set and costumes), Jennifer Tipton (lighting) and John Gromada (sound).
The A.C.T. press release described Wrong Mountain thusly: "With touches of surrealism and hints of science fiction (a 40-pound, intestine eating worm and an intoxicating elixir called `lithia water' figure prominently in the plot), the story...concerns an utterly pretentious obscure poet [Rifkin], his ex-wife's new husband, a fabulously successful, lightweight playwright; a new-plays festival situated in the middle of nowhere, and the absolute horror and pleasure of unwanted, yet coveted, overnight success."
In 1991, La Bete, a rare contemporary verse comedy about an acting troupe forced to compromise its artistic integrity, brought playwright Hirson to Broadway. Reviews were generally good but the play, directed by Jones, had difficulty finding an audience.
In an Oct. 24, 1999 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Hirson noted that the commercial failure of La Bete accounted for his long absence from the footlights. "I went through quite a long period when I was paralyzed," he said, adding that he began thinking in terms of "the image of a man who was being consumed by some kind of parasite, and I really didn't know what that image meant or where it would lead me. And it's one of the reasons I suppose that I launched myself into this second play, to find out what that meant."
In a Jan. 9 interview with the New York Times, Hirson said, "It would disappoint me if the play were viewed simply as some kind of referendum on the experience of La Bete... Certainly I felt people were entitled to love it or hate it. And they did. In fact, they loved and hated it to such extremes that I began to appreciate how unusual an experience it was, not only for a first-time playwright, but any playwright."
Dodger Endemol Theatrical Productions sponsored a reading of Wrong Mountain in early August 1998 in midtown Manhattan. Among the actors: Tony winner Alan Cumming, Joyce Van Patten (Labor Day) Rifkin and Larry Pine, who left the show after San Francisco.
Unlike La Bete, Wrong Mountain is set in modern times and is not in verse. Actor Pine told Playbill On-Line (Aug. 6, 1998), "The play is about an unrecognized poet and his intellectual family. There's also this famous Broadway playwright, who's married to the poet's ex-wife. The playwright bets the poet $100,000 he can't write a play, but the poet does -- and it turns out to be really good."
Asked in August 1998 about Wrong Mountain's future prospects, Pine said, "Well, this is the next step. The first readings we did, the play was 178 pages long. Now its 149 pages. I figure once it's in the 110 range... This is honestly the best play I've read since Angels in America."
For tickets to Wrong Mountain at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre, 230 West 49th St., call (212) 239-6200.