A best featured actor Tony for William Biff McGuire might have been nice but inconsequential. A best actress Tony for Shirley Knight might have been something to build a run on. A Tony for best play might have even saved the day.
But The Young Man From Atlanta received none of these boons. Nominated for three Tony categories but winner of none, Horton Foote's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama will close Sunday, June 8, after 16 previews and 85 regular performances at Broadway's Longacre Theatre.
Despite the Pulitzer's salute and its distinguished cast, the show has consistently ranked at or near the bottom of both boxoffice and attendance figures on Broadway. It took in some $94,000 at 46 percent capacity for the week ending May 25.
Tickets for the Broadway engagement are still on sale from Tele-charge at (212) 239-6200. Outside NY metro area: (800) 432-7250. You can also order tickets on Playbill On-Line.
Here's the back-story on the show's circuitous arrival on Broadway:
It's rare when a major playwright revises a Pulitzer Prize-winning play. But it happened in Chicago Jan. 20 when Horton Foote reopened his 1995 Pulitzer-winning drama, The Young Man From Atlanta, at the Goodman Theatre, in preparation for its Broadway premiere at the Longactre Theatre March 27. The play won the Pulitzer following its world-premiere production at the small Off-Broadway Signature Theatre Company, which (as they've done with Edward Albee and Sam Shepard) dedicated an entire season to Horton Foote's work.
Although Peter Masterson directed the play in New York, Goodman artistic director Robert Falls took the helm for this engagement. The stars are different, too. Rip Torn and Shirley Knight are featured as the aging couple coping with his sudden retirement and the memory of their dead son.
Post-Signature productions in Boston and Texas revealed problems, which the producer felt demanded major creative changes, including both cast (Ralph Waite and Carlin Glynn) and director. Complicating the situation was the fact that Masterson and Foote are cousins, and the playwright was torn between family and professional loyalties.
"There were tears and harsh words exchanged," said someone close to both parties. But when the smoke cleared, Falls was the new director, and Shirley Knight and Rip Torn the leads.
"A producer must be passionate, persistent and patient," says David Richenthal, the N.Y. co-producer with Anita Waxman and Jujamcyn. "We reached for someone we considered to be the best director in the country for American material, someone who could take Horton's remarkable work and best reveal the subterranean emotions working beneath the surface."
The producer added that he hoped the regional theatre production in Chicago would give the playwright and new creative team even more time to work on the play to make it even "tighter and sharper."
Goodman Theatre dramaturg Tom Creamer told Playbill On-Line that changes to the text have really been a matter of fine tuning. "The rewrites from Horton Foote have been small changes, a line here and there. He and Robert Falls got together for a couple of days in Wharton, Texas, and worked on repositioning information, taking a line of exposition from one scene to another. But the scenes themselves are still intact."
Creamer explained the reason Torn and Knight were chosen to replace Waite and Glynn. "I'd heard the play worked well on the Signature space, but bigger houses are more trouble, and the production didn't expand its scale to fit the houses. Horton's plays work so well on TV and the screen because you can always go in for a close-up." With 683 seats, the Goodman isn't exactly a cozy nook, but Creamer reasoned, "Intimate plays can work, but you need a powerhouse. Like when we did A Touch Of The Poet last year we got Brian Dennehey. You need the voice. Also we have Tom Lynch designing it so we'll get a real sense of the house they live in, their environment."
-- By David Lefkowitz and Patrick Pacheco