Despite its high-powered director and the cachet lent to the project by Burnett's name, the traditionally-structured play was not favored by critics, though some had kind words for lead actress Michele Pawk.
Famed director Prince had overseen work on the play since before it premiered at Chicago's Goodman Theater earlier this year. Pawk, Linda Lavin and Frank Wood lead the cast. Lavin is the much-married, Christian Scientist, authoritarian grandmother who rarely has a good word to say about her daughter (Pawk), an unrealistic dreamer who chases a career as a Hollywood journalist, but only finds a loveless marriage and the bottle. Nor does Grandma much care for her ex son-in-law (Wood), a gentle but hapless drunk who is in and out of the hospital.
Who grandma does love is her granddaughter Helen (nine-year-old Sara Niemietz and later Donna Lynne Champlin), who is slavishly devoted as a child, but later leaves for New York City to pursue a career on the stage.
Also in the cast are Steve Bukunas, Christian Kohn, Patrick Clear, Emily Graham-Handley and Nicolas King. A New York addition to the cast is Leslie Hendrix. The play closed its initial run at Chicago's Goodman Theater on June 1.
The collaboration between the authors and director began when Burnett sent her friend Prince the script. "She sent me some names, actually, of good directors," Prince told Playbill On-Line. "I thought, I'd like to shepherd this with them. I said, 'Look, it's a lovely play. It needs one or two more generations. Let's do it. I'm willing to do it with you if you like.' There was a long silence, and Carol said, 'Oh, God, would you really?'" Prince was strict with his new colleagues from the start. "My first contribution was to tell them, 'Give me two days and I'll call you and tell you what I think you need to do to make it a better play.' I called them and said, 'Look, I can't draw a straight line, but I have drawn a blueprint of what a single set would be, what we call today a studio apartment. Now you must put every single thing in your play inside this space.'"
Writer-director-actress Hamilton, Burnett's daughter, died of cancer Jan. 20. She had started the ball rolling on the project. Hamilton was skeptical of taking on the adaptation alone. "Having only written screenplays, I didn't think I'd be up to the task," she had said. Hamilton suggested to her mother that they co-write the play.
Despite Hamilton's passing prior to the Goodman bow, work on the Chicago production did not cease. "The first moment that was difficult," said Prince, "was when I needed rewrites. We were into rehearsal about four days in Chicago and suddenly I needed a new scene. It was not something that Carol and I had discussed before then. I was standing in the wings—'one of these days, you may have to rewrite the script.' And then it did happen. And Carol was understandably apprehensive and said, 'It may take me two or three days.' I said, 'OK.' I didn't mean OK. I needed it right away, but I said 'OK.' I went to bed that night and around 1:30 in the morning, I heard paper being slipped underneath the door. It was the new scene. And since then, there have been many. The show has undergone a lot of work since Chicago. We used this past summer to do the rewrites and they're extensive, I think."
Lavin was last seen on Broadway in Tale of the Allergist's Wife, one of her long career's most memorable credits. Wood's name was made when he won a Tony for the jazz trumpeter he played in Side Man. Pawk followed up a memorable turn in Cabaret with a role in the ill fortuned Seussical.
Prince will work at the Goodman again next season, directing Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman's Gold!
Tickets to the Broadway run of the new play Hollywood Arms are now on sale. Call Telecharge at (212) 239-5258, and, for outside the NYC metro area (800) 545-2559.