Think of it as the Reform Party of political comedies; it put up a fight but seemed to have failure written on it from the start. High Infidelity, a satirical look at politics' effect on a marriage -- and vice versa -- will end its embattled run at Off-Broadway's Promenade Theatre Sept. 3, less than two weeks after the show's opening, Aug. 23.
Reviews were not good for John Dooley's comedy, which had been scheduled for a limited run through Sept. 24. The show, starring John Davidson and Morgan Fairchild, began previews July 14 but hit its first major snag July 18, when supporting actress J.C. Wendel walked out of the production. A new cast-member, Jennifer Roszell, officially took Wendel's place, but not before the producers delayed the scheduled Aug. 3 opening date. The opening was pushed all the way to Aug. 31 but then pushed back a week. (In her review, the critic for Newsday took exception to the lengthy preview period, chastising the producers for not advertising the show as still being in previews and seemingly running the show as long as possible before reviewers could pronounce their judgments. The critic didn't mention the actress' walk-out.)
A vet of such series as "Friends," "Falcon Crest" and "Dallas," actress Fairchild most recently appeared on stage in Crimes of the Heart at Los Angeles' Falcon Theatre. Her last New York role was in the 1981 Playwrights Horizon production of Geniuses.
Davidson is making his Off-Broadway debut, surprising for an actor who has Broadway credits with State Fair, Foxy and Oklahoma! and criss-crossed the country in a variety of tours from The Music Man, Camelot and Carousel to Bully and Ragtime. No TV slouch, he hosted "That's Incredible!," "Hollywood Squares," his self-titled program and "The Entertainers."
Replacement actress Roszell's regional credits include Other People's Money at Boston's Colonial Theatre and shows at her theatre alma mater, MA's American Repertory Theatre Institute. In Infidelity, Davidson and Fairchild play a U.S. Senator and his wife, forced into marriage counseling by his party leaders who feel their damaged relationship is going to sink his chances for the presidency. The play is set, circa 1970s, in "Dr. Edward Finger's Marriage Clinic on the Jersey shore."
Also in the Infidelity cast are Neil Maffin and Daniel Ziszkie. Long Beach Civic Light Opera artistic director Luke Yankee directs. The design team includes Harrison Williams (sets), Carrie Robbins Designage Inc. (costumes), Jack Mehler (lighting) and Catherine Mardis (sound).
At 6 PM July 18, the decision was made to cancel that evening's performance (with Fairchild making an apologetic curtain speech) and the scheduled Wednesday matinee for July 19 was also scuttled. At 5:30 PM the next night, producers made the decision to go on with that evening's performance.
"The understudy, Lisby Larson, is also the understudy for Morgan," said production spokesperson Keith Sherman (July 19). "and Lisby wasn't up on the part enough to be ready to go on. The character has a lot of business onstage. We're auditioning new replacements tomorrow." Audience members were offered refunds or exchanges at the box office for the two canceled performance.
Asked what precipitated the Wendel walkout, Sherman said, "She told the producers she was `unhappy.' Then she hopped on a plane and went back to California. In all my years working in the theatre, that's never happened. She's in breach, and the producers are considering legal action." He added that producer Jennifer Smith Rockwood knew that Wendel had a dental appointment that day and followed the actress to the dentist "to beg her to do the show. But she walked."
Several calls to Ms. Wendel's representatives at the A.P.A. Agency by PBOL were not returned. Reached Aug. 30, a Keith Sherman office press rep did not know if any action was being pursued against the actress by the producers.
Asked about her decision to break the cancellation news to disappointed theatregoers herself, actress Fairchild told the New York Post (July 20), "Having been an audience member myself, I wanted to explain the situation and apologize for what happened."
Tickets to High Infidelity are $60-$50. The Promenade Theatre is located at 2162 Broadway at 76th Street. For tickets, call (212) 239 6200. High Infidelity is on the web at http://www.HighInfidelity.org.
The next tenant for the Promenade will be Yasmina Reza's The Unexpected Man, starring Alan Bates and Eileen Atkins and starting previews Oct. 10.
-- By David Lefkowitz
and Christine Ehren