Michael Cristofer, Pulitzer-prize winning playwright of The Shadow Box, his 1975 drama about coping with terminal illness, turns to lighter fare with The Blues Are Running, a "humorously offbeat tale" about six characters and a park bench, which opened Nov. 3 at Off Broadway's Manhattan Theatre Club - Stage II.
Completely unrelated to the nationally produced musical, King Mackerel And The Blues Are Running, Cristofer's play is only tangentially about fishing -- two characters recall the years they used to fish together.
All six characters in Cristofer's Blues are played by Marcus and Paul Giamatti, sons of former Baseball Commissioner and Yale President, Bart Giamatti. Sets are by Jim Youmans, Lighting by Ken Posner, costumes by Jess Goldstein, and sound by Raymond D. Schilke. Melvin Bernhardt, who won the Tony for staging Da on Broadway, directs.
Although his Shadow Box was recently revived on Broadway, Michael Cristofer (pronounced Cris-tah'-fer) hasn't had a new show on the Great White Way (or nearby) since 1984, when The Lady And The Clarinet received scathing reviews. He hasn't worked at Manhattan Theatre Club since a 1979 workshop of Ice.
Not that Cristofer hasn't been busy. In 1985-86, he and Lawrence Sacharow helped found River Arts Repertory in Woodstock, NY, which produced the work of playwrights Len Jenkin, Richard Nelson, and others. Their last show, Three Tall Women, came to Off-Broadway and led to Albee's most recent Pulitzer. The actual River Arts Playhouse ended up closing because Cristofer "was tired of begging people for money," though the acting company continues to work on projects in New York. Hollywood has also been a steady Cristofer customer. In fact, after Blues, Cristofer is off to direct his first film, for HBO. Called "Gia," the film will be based on the life of a model who had it all and threw it all, violently, away. Cristofer is revising the script, originally by Jay McInerney.
Also on the horizon is Amazing Grace, which won the American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award after its premiere at the Pittsburgh Public Theatre this year.
"It's a darker, less commercial piece than Blues," said Cristopher, "so Broadway is probably out of the question" -- even though Marsha Mason is still attached to the project.
Reached by phone, Michael Cristofer told Playbill On-Line the idea for The Blues Are Running came to him from a simple image: "two guys sitting on a bench." He wrote the first part of the play as an independent, stand-alone one act, but then decided to develop it into a full evening with two other scenes -- unrelated except for their proximity to a park bench.
"The show is about friendship," Cristofer said, "about the changes in relationships between friends when people spend a long time together and become different to each other."
In his pan of Blues Are Running for the Daily News (Nov. 4), Howard Kissel wrote, "The most charitable way you can look at the play is as a study of the vulnerability of men. The only reason it is interesting is that the two brothers who play all the parts, Marcus and Paul Giamatti, are resourceful and beguiling actors -- a pleasure to watch. I hope to see them again under happier circumstances."
Clive Barnes, in his New York Post review, had mixed -- though far more positive -- words for Cristofer's Blues: "The Blues Are Running...suggests two essays in dramaturgy strung together by a straggling trope. Neither essay has anything meaningful to say about the other, but they are both rituals in dialogue by a pretty smart, Pulitzer-Prize-winning playwright who has studied the art of stage and stagey conversation and gotten it down to a very decent technique. And is frequently amusing in the process... In eery way Cristofer has been fortunate in his interpreters. All the same -- credit where credit is due -- ...it is eventually his gift that is gabbing."
For tickets and information on The Blues Are Running, which is running through Nov. 24, call (212) 581-1212.
-- By David Lefkowitz