In these dog days of blockbuster movies, beach novels and summertime reality programs, when theatre can seem the most marginal and inconsequential of art forms, it comforting to know that simply putting the wrong play on stage in the wrong city can still whip up a maelstrom of controversy.
Last week, we had the 21 Indiana state lawmakers, shocked, one and all, to find that Terrence McNally's supposedly blasphemous Corpus Christi was being given a student production at one of the Hoosier State sacred cradles of education, Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. The August statesmen felt that had no choice but to file federal suit against the frightful sacrilege of theatre majors.
This week's tempest in a teapot, however, is even more entertaining. You somewhat expect artistic intolerance in the Heartland. But in Provincetown, Massachusetts? There are arguably few more tolerant and liberal towns in the country. Yet, it was not in Charleston or Denver or St. Louis, but good old P-Town where Naked Boys Singing proved too darn hot for the locals. The harmless revue—which, yes indeed, let it be read here first, does feature naked boys singing—has been playing Off Broadway for more than two years without a peep from Mayor Giuliani. The show also survived a run in San Francisco. On Cape Cod, a mecca of gay life, though, the production was issued a cease and desist order. According to the city fathers, Naked's nudity makes its venue, the Crown and Anchor, an adult entertainment complex, something for which the space is not licensed to sell alcohol. The building, having suddenly become a blue joint, is also now guilty of violated various zoning bylaws. So far, the Crown and Anchor has ignored orders they close the show. Local comics, meanwhile, are thankful to the government for providing them with material through Labor Day.
This wasn't the best week to open a show in New York. Few entertainments emerged unbloodied. The LAByrinth Theatre Company's production of John Patrick Shanley's Where's My Money? and the new Off-Broadway revival of Craig Lucas' Blue Window received mixed notices, while Second Stage's new musical Once Around the City was trounced by the critics. Tom Selleck, making his Broadway debut in A Thousand Clowns, was handled gently by most critics, but fairly smacked down by the New York Times. The one winner of the week was the Roundabout Theatre Company's production of Shaw's Major Barbara, which, despite weeks of lukewarm buzz, pulled fantastic reviews out of its hat at the last moment.
Hartford Stage's 2001-02 season reveals a deep affection for the glamour queens of Hollywood's Golden Age. The strong-jawed Kate Mulgrew—who spends most of her time piloting "Star Trek: Voyager" as Captain Janeway—will play the strong-jawed Katharine Hepburn in Tea at Five, a new play by Matthew Lombardo. Meanwhile, the Hartford Mainstage season begins with a play marked for life by Hepburn: Philip Barry's comedy of upper class manners, The Philadelphia Story. And one of Hepburn's Hollywood rivals, Rita Hayworth, is the inspiration of a third offering, Edwin Sanchez's Diosa. Hartford's season will also see a revival of Edward Albee's Seascape. More and more, regional houses seem to be marching in lockstep, picking the same classic plays at the same time, as if paralyzed by the prospect of looking original. Previous seasons have seen a sudden plethora of Camino Real mountings. Currently, we are flooded with productions of Hedda Gabler and Hair, and next season will see more versions of The Royal Family of Broadway than you can shake Edna Ferber at. As for Seascape, the Bay Street Theatre has just wrapped up a production and Second Stage plans one for next spring.
Finally, it couldn't last forever. One of the minor miracles of the New York theatre the past couple seasons was Lincoln Center Theater's ability to keep the three stars of Contact—Boyd Gaines, Karen Ziemba and Deborah Yates—in place for almost two years. But now, alas, Ziemba is leaving. Her exit date is Sept. 2. Word has Gaines and Yates departing the same time.
—By Robert Simonson