Audiences were moved by her strong performances, beginning with Hamlet opposite Eva Le Gallienne in 1937 and ending with Collected Stories in 1998. And she influenced the art of thousands of actors, either through her decades of teaching at HB Studios, the Greenwich Village school she founded with her husband Herbert Berghof, or through her books, including "Respect for Acting."
Few figures were connected to so many important events in American theatre history. She made her New York debut as Nina in The Seagull opposite the Lunts, and was Desdemona to Paul Robeson's Othello. She replaced Jessica Tandy as Blanche, acting opposite Marlon Brando in the original A Streetcar Named Desire. She created the title role in Clifford Odets' The Country Girl and the vicious and hilarious Martha in Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. In her later years, the plays she appeared in were more negligible, but her presence in them made them theatrical events nonetheless. She was often described as opinionated and intimidating. Probably true. But, then, she couldn't have achieved what she did if she hadn't been.
There was nothing surprising about the two major Broadway developments of the week: Taboo announced it would close and Caroline, or Change said it would transfer. The conclusions had been predicted ad nauseam for weeks. Taboo, the Boy George musical brought to New York by first-time producer Rosie O'Donnell at a cost of $10 million, never experienced a quiet week, what with backstage turmoil and constant (and largely negative) press coverage. Most observers came to believe the only way the show would survive was by the grace of O'Donnell's pocketbook. That purse will snap shut on Feb. 8.
It took a while, but Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori's Caroline, or Change found the needed millions to find a life on Broadway. The production, a hit Off-Broadway, will begin at the Eugene O'Neill on April 13 for a May 2 opening. (At that point, Thoroughly Modern Millie composer Tesori will have two very different musicals running simultaneously on Broadway.) Caroline's entering the season has upended the awards races, since Kushner, Tesori and star Tonya Pinkins are expected to be serious contenders for every prize.
Jerry Springer: The Opera received eight Olivier Award nominations on Jan. 14. That was apparently enough incentive for American producers to finally own up to a long-hinted-at Broadway transfer. The London sensation will reach these shores in spring 2005. Get two famous (or infamous) people, put them on stage and have them yak away. It's a tried and true formula, and lately, playwrights and producers have been employing it a lot. This season's dramatic duos include Matt Damon and Ben Affleck in Matt & Ben, Sarah Bernhardt and Eleonora Duse in Duet and a thinly disguised Dashiell Hammett and Lillian Hellman in Rose's Dilemma. A couple new entries in this genre were recently announced. Melissa Friedman will be Jewish historian and author Hannah Arendt, and David Straithairn is her Nazi-sympathizing philosopher-lover Martin Heidegger, in Hannah and Martin, getting its New York premiere March 20 at the Bank Street Theatre. And Eva Braun and Clara Petacchi, the mistresses of Hitler and Mussolini, respectively, will get together for tea in Summit Conference, at Urban Stages Feb. 5. (Get all four together for a set of mixed doubles—now there's an interesting dramatic situation.)
Proponents of President Bush and the war in Iraq will want to steer clear of the Public Theater starting Feb. 24, if they don't want their blood pressure to skyrocket. Tim Robbins, possibly Hollywood's most outspoken opponent to America's recent military interventions, hasn't grown tired of rankling conservatives. He's written a play, Embedded, which doesn't just address the Iraq war, but is actually about the war. The show was a hit in Los Angeles last fall and now arrives in New York, with Robbins directing. The plot features "embedded journalists, scheming government officials, a show-tune singing colonel, and the media's insatiable desire for heroes." Chances are, this won't get Robbins invited back to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Finally, from the "Well, What Did You Expect?" Department: California's La Jolla Playhouse is getting some heat about its proposed new musical Disposable. The work is a jaunty little project about serial murderer and Gianni Versace killer Andrew Cunanan. Some critics consider the topic in bad taste. In response, the theatre stated, "The authors intend Disposable to be a metaphor for the repercussions of a culture obsessed with money, power and fame." The authors are currently experiencing some of those repercussions.