Off-Broadway shows shuttered this week with a breathtaking efficiency not seen in many a New York moon. The most dramatic by far was that at Family Week, the new Beth Henley play that came seemingly out of nowhere last February to seize the Century Center Theatre. It opened on April 10 and posted a closing notice April 11, mere hours after receiving a barrage of blistering reviews. Suite in Two Keys, the Noel Coward one-acts at the Lucille Lortel Theatre which also opened April 10, showed a little more patience; it waited a full day after reviews before deciding that even the New York stage debut of Hayley Mills couldn't keep Suite afloat.
In between the news of Family and Suite came the last gasp from The Big Bang, the two-man Off-Broadway musical spoof of the people who make musicals, which valiantly fought the odds at the Douglas Fairbanks Theatre for the last two months. Add to these three sudden developments the already announced April 16 closings of James Joyce's The Dead, Betwixt and Fuddy Meers, and next week's theatrical landscape looks to be a decidedly altered one. It is perhaps only the natural way of things, given the current state of theatre real estate gridlock. As the songwriter wrote, "something's gotta give."
There was word from the mountaintop on Thursday, as the Tony Administrative Committee issued verdicts of various tantalizing questions. Sez Tony: Contact, Swing! and Riverdance, with only a few original tunes between them, are to be regarded as new musicals; True West by Sam Shepherd and Waiting in the Wings by Noel Coward -- 20 and 40 years olds, respectively -- are to be considered new plays; and, shocker of shockers, True West stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly are separate actors and to be nominated as such. The awards season would be a dull, paltry thing, indeed, without the entertainment provided by the ever-morphing Tony rules.
The rulings on True West and Wings are not terribly surprising, and probably come as a relief to Tony voters desirous of some serious American competition to the British Michael Frayn's Copenhagen, which opened this week to sparkling reviews. Nor was the decision regarding Contact unexpected. It has no original score, no orchestra, and no one in the cast sings, but it is the most praised new piece of music theatre this season, and -- since it is even less a play than a musical -- it would have been a source of considerable consternation if it couldn't be considered for some award. Contact's eligibility, however, sets up a situation in which the show that wins best score and book will very likely not win best musical. Having happened the last two years, this outcome is becoming something of a Tony tradition.
Speaking of awards, the biggest one a playwright can receive (outside the Nobel) was given to Donald Margulies for Dinner with Friends, the little play that could which keeps running Off-Broadway, and now has plans for productions in Chicago, Los Angeles, Berkeley and, maybe, London. Three was a charm for Margulies, who had previously been up for the honor for Sight Unseen and Collected Stories. George C. Wolfe and Michael John LaChiusa's The Wild Party opened and proved once more that if you put two theatregoers in a room, you'll get three opinions. The show has inspired a variety of judgement even more various than that engendered by the first Wild Party musical, by Andrew Lippa. Reviews were all over the place, from raves to pans, and every gradation in between. What effect this will have on the ambitious musical remains to be seen. The effect Copenhagen's reviews had on the play, meanwhile, was more evident: The box office took in $100,000 the day after opening night.
Diane Venora is set to play another wicked Shakespearean queen. She will be Lady Macbeth to Kelsey Grammer's Scottish king in the upcoming Boston-Broadway mounting of Macbeth. Last fall, she played Gertrude in the Public Theater's Andre Serban-Liev Schreiber Hamlet, but, felled by a bronchial ailment, her performance was seen by precious few theatregoers. Here's hoping she'll be in better health for The Scottish Play. Claudius can, perhaps, get by without Gertrude, but Macbeth is lost without his Lady.
Finally, Wallace Shawn's The Designated Mourner, a critical and commercial hit when Mike Nichols acted in it in London in 1996, will finally get its U.S. debut, with Shawn himself starring and Andre Gregory directing. Those who have waited patiently for their chance to see it, however, may have to wait a little longer. Though it will begin May 1, it is being staged in a former men's club on S. William Street in the Financial District. Maximum capacity per performance: 30. The choice of venue raised a few eyebrows, but only because Shawn's connected with the project. Theatres with only a few dozen seats are not un-heard of in New York. They're called Off-Off-Broadway. And sometimes those 30 seats aren't all filled.
-- By Robert Simonson