PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, June 26-July 2: Anger and Apathy

ICYMI   PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, June 26-July 2: Anger and Apathy Just before midnight on Sunday, June 27, as the last minutes ticked off on their current contract, representatives of Actors' Equity Association and the League of American Theatres and Producers were not busy dotting the "I"s on a new four-year pact. Instead, they were walking away from the negotiating table in high dudgeon. Who split first? Depends on who you talk to; both sides accused the other of first abandoning the process. And, according to the New York Post, there were bitter accusations made by both parties.

Whatever happened, the result was clear: no agreement. Broadway, still nursing injuries from last year's strike, waited on tenterhooks while both sides expressed their fervent "official" desire to return to negotiations, with neither making the first move. Broadway marquees continued to light up in the meantime. Finally, the League and Equity made a joint announcement on July 1 that they would ring the bell for Round Two beginning Tuesday, July 6.

The proliferation of non-union road tours remains the Big Issue of the talks, but, according to some, the gap between the union and producers has lessened. A sorer point is the Equity demand that League producers uniformly pledge to cease licensing Broadway shows to companies that create non-union tours. According to the Post, producers have bristled as this idea, which they consider unacceptable interference in business decisions that should be theirs alone to make. Some still consider a strike a real possibility. So, enjoy the Fourth of July weekend, everyone. That uncertain feeling returns next week.

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The New York theatre community received two surprising—almost shocking—closing notices this week. Assassins, the Roundabout Theatre Company's praised revival of Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman's dark musical—the winningest show at this year's Tony Awards, taking home five trophies—will close July 18, far short of the previously announced extension of Sept. 12. And The Normal Heart, the Worth Street Theatre Company revival of Larry Kramer's seminal AIDS drama, went dark on June 29, with less than three hours' notice. It, too, had announced an extension through the summer; Kramer had often talked of a Broadway transfer.

Both shows couldn't have asked more from the critics corps. Reviews praised each production to the skies. Some analysts fingered as the villain the demon summer season, which is lately perceived as fallow. (Is there any section of the year, now, that isn't labeled by producers as "traditionally weak"? The winter is killing, they say; the fall Jewish holidays murder business. It seems Broadway now survives solely on Christmas bucks and a couple flush months in spring.) But, moreover, it is still apparent to theatre folk that, since 9/11, the market for serious drama remains a perilously soft one. Musicals such as Hairspray and Wicked continue to mine gold. But the best-written, best-produced plays fold quickly, particularly Off Broadway, unless buoyed by the presence of a Sean Combs or Edie Falco. Audiences, it seems, want to be entertained, not provoked into stirring thought. A more depressing realization is that, at a time when the country is suffering through its most turbulent period in 30 years, there appears to be no thirst for political theatre. Assassins and Normal Heart will not have lived the long lives they deserved. Mrs. Farnsworth, the A.R. Gurney play skewering George W. Bush and starring Sigourney Weaver and John Lithgow, could not secure a searched-for longer run. Sixteen Wounded, Eliam Kraiem's Jewish-Palestinian drama, bombed on Broadway. True, Tim Robbins' Iraq war satire Embedded was a hit, but that may have had more to do with Robbins' celebrity than with any innate attractions to be found in the play. At this rate, pretty soon there won't be any shows for the Republican Convention to cross off their "approved viewing" list.

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