PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 1-7, 2000: A Good Bete; Hello, Dali

ICYMI   PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 1-7, 2000: A Good Bete; Hello, Dali David Hirson's Wrong Mountain, which opens on Broadway on Jan. 13, may not be doing much business as of yet, but it is certainly generating a lot of talk. This, as everyone in the industry must know by now, is only Hirson's second play, and -- wonder of wonders -- his second play on Broadway. But much of the discussion surrounding Mountain really has to do with Hirson's first play. That was La Bete, the short 1991 run which has suddenly and rather unexpectedly risen to the level of legend. Articles interviewing Hirson over the past weeks talk of the comedy as one of the few significant events to have graced Broadway in the past decade.
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Truth to tell, La Bete was a singular experience. A modern verse play set in Moliere's France, it boasted a twenty-minute entrance speech by the title character, as well as an audacious, warped perspective design by Richard Hudson, in which an outsized gold chandelier set against a blindingly white set pointed directly at the audience and Louis XIV-style wigs climbed halfway to the ceiling. Audiences staggered out of the theatre, wondering what they had just seen. Most critics thought they had seen something good, but a few important ones differed and the play quickly shuttered.

There's no telling what the reviewers will say this time around, but at least Hirson can be sure of his star, Ron Rifkin. Another Ron -- Silver -- was, infamously, the original star of La Bete, but pulled out before the show reached New York, resulting in understudy Tom McGowan getting his first big break.

(By a curious coincidence, both Ron Rifkin and Ron Silver worked together in Arthur Miller's Broken Glass, another drama Silver exited before its arrival on Broadway. Rifkin and Hirson must have a lot to talk about.)

Perhaps second only to Wrong Mountain for the title of Curious Play Opening Next Week is Playwrights Horizons' Lobster Alice. To my recollection, Salvador Dali never had much interest in the theatre, but today's theatre sure seems interested in Dali. The Surrealist painter is currently traipsing through plays on major stages in three cities, including Kira Obolensky's Alice, in which Dali is a taunting catalyst who sends the lives of a Hollywood studio animator and his secretary spinning off their axes. In Terry Johnson's Hysteria, currently running at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater Company and due to begin at Florida Studio Theatre Jan. 11, the mustachioed Spaniard is the bane of an aging Sigmund Freud's existence. (Side note: By a curious turn, both the Chicago and Florida Hysteria's lost their Freud in mid-rehearsal.) Meanwhile, South Coast Rep's upcoming offering is Jose Rivera's References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot. The play does not feature Dali, except in the title, though the artist is referenced in the text.

Obolensky's play is partly based on true events. Dali did visit Hollywood in 1946 to do some work for one of the big studios, but ended up spending much of his time with an animator then working on Disney's movie of "Alice in Wonderland." Why so much Dali? Perhaps the same reason why, several years ago, lawyer Roy Cohn could be found of a variety of stages: Dali is a flamboyant, self-dramatizing individualist who naturally lends himself to the stage. One expects the entrance of such a man to energize the theatrical goings-on; to litter the floor with lobsters, cause clocks to melt and grass to grow from the floor -- as he does in Lobster Alice.

But openings are few these days. As is tradition in the first weeks of January, the upcoming days are big ones for closings. Due to breath their last Jan. 9 are Broadway's Marie Christine and Ain't Nothin' But the Blues and Off-Broadway's Adam Baum and the Jew Movie, The Exact Center of the Universe, Hamlet with Liev Schreiber and Trudy Blue, while Spalding Gray's Morning, Noon and Night closes on Jan. 10.

Trudy Blue, which has had an extended run at MCC Theatre, may not be gone for good. While the play had not been a tremendous success, the dearth of candidates for this year's best play Tony (Wrong Mountain is one of the few) is causing producers to madly cast about for any drama worth transferring to Broadway. Trudy is as good a nominee as any, boasting a known playwright, Marsha Norman, and a positive review from the New York Times. MCC is currently fishing around for producers to bring the show uptown.

An unexpected closing announced this week was that of the Sondheim revue Putting It Together. Not finding a suitable replacement for Carol Burnett, producer Cameron Mackintosh opted to end the Broadway run on Feb. 20. The show did, however, manage to find a temporary replacement for Bronson Pinchot, who tore a muscle in his leg last month; Evan Pappas has been playing the ailing actor's part this week.

If it was a bad week for Putting It Together, it's been a bad season for Stephen Sondheim. So far, he's 0 for 3: a George Street Playhouse revival of Do I Hear a Waltz? did not go over well; the Broadway plans of Wise Guys were scrapped after an unsatisfactory fall workshop; and now Putting It Together has posted its notice. Well, the composer still has one chance for success before the season's out -- the Off-Broadway mounting of his first, hitherto unproduced musical Saturday Night begins performances Jan. 20.

Also on its way out is Manhattan Theatre Club's production of Arthur Kopit's Y2K, thus leaving room at the Lucille Lortel Theatre for a possible late-entry, Noel Coward centennial production. While talks are still underway, it seems likely Coward's 1965 work Suite in Two Keys will be the Lortel's next tenant, with Hayley Mills starring and John Tillinger directing.

In Princeton, NJ, the McCarter Theatre is busy casting classic stage actors in classic roles. Charles Durning will play hapless real estate shark Levene in David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross, set to run Feb. 15-March 5, while Jane Alexander will give the world her Mme. Ravensky in The Cherry Orchard, March 28 April 16.