You've got to hand it to Edward Albee. Whether you think he's a genius or, well, not, he's about the only playwright working in America that keeps the theatre talking. Last season, arguments were waged over the critical reevaluation of the once reviled Tiny Alice and the relative merits (another masterpiece? mental doodling?) of The Play About the Baby. And this season, he's generating even more buzz, showing, perhaps, that he learned something about showmanship from his adoptive grandfather, the late Vaudeville titan.
Some of the talk is about an unlucky blow to the fortunes of the Off Broadway premiere of Edward Albee's Occupant at the Signature Theatre Company. The play's star, Anne Bancroft, who was returning to the stage after an absence of many years, was sidelined after only six previews. Bancroft's ailment was first identified as bronchitis but then worsened into pneumonia. Since her exit, standby Kathleen Butler has played the role of sculptor Louise Nevelson and the official opening was postponed. Though the show runs through April 7, there was talk that Bancroft would not return. Finally, Signature suspended performances Feb. 23 with a promise Bancroft would return March 19.
More advantageous is the chatter-cum-controversy surrounding Albee's other premiere, the Broadway effort memorably titled The Goat, or, Who Is Sylvia?. For a month or so, observers, columnists and other professional magpies have been focused on the play's mysterious plot. Albee and producer Elizabeth Ireland McCann wouldn't let anyone read the script in advance. When asked, they would admit there was a goat in the story (there's also a goat on stage—for now), but otherwise smile like Cheshire cats and instruct their interlocutors to "wait and see."
Of course, some commentators don't like to wait. The New York Post's Michael Riedel went ahead and said the play was about bestiality, something everyone sort of suspected (what else about a goat is worth keeping a secret?) McCann didn't like that. As Riedel gleefully detailed in his column, the producer (who is no one to mess with) sent a letter saying Albee's "`magnificent new play' is no more about bestiality than 'Long Day's Journey Into Night is about drug addiction' or `Romeo and Juliet is about teenage sex'"—which gives you an idea of how the production team rates this new work. Somebody better tell the Pulitzer people that their decision has already been made for them.
After more than a decade of tilting at the windmill of Broadway, Tony Randall and the ever-struggling company he founded, the National Actors Theatre, are going to try the less bruising terrain of Off Broadway for a while. The company will take up residency at Pace University’s Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts. And why not? The rent on the theatre is free. So is the office space. And NAT can return to a full season of productions for the first time in many a year. You take time out for a restful President's Day Weekend, and suddenly there are half a dozen Broadway shows that weren't there before. By God! Spring is here! The Crucible, with Laura Linney as the prudish wife of Liam Neeson's John Proctor, began previews Feb. 16, under Richard Eyre's direction. Mary Zimmerman Second Stage hit, Metamorphoses, began previews at Circle in the Square on Feb. 21. Vernel Bagneris' New Orleans jazz musical revue One Mo' Time also began previews on Feb. 21. The Peter Parnell two-hander QED, starring Alan Alda and Kellie Overbey, returned to the Vivian Beaumont Theatre on Sundays and Monday, after a break of a couple months. And the two most anticipated musical productions of the season, the new Sweet Smell of Success and the revival of Oklahoma! (where not only does the wind come sweeping down the plain, but 250 seats coming sweeping out of the Gershwin to make way for a special thrust stage) begin previews on Feb. 23.
As far as openings, the two favorite old broads of Broadway, Bea Arthur and Elaine Stritch, opened their shows, and there was lots of applause and appreciation all around. Perhaps when Barbara Cook returns with her solo show this summer, there could be a three tenors sort of thing. Has anyone called "Great Performances?"