PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, May 19-25: Eyre Time

News   PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, May 19-25: Eyre Time In recent days, the struggling Broadway musical Jane Eyre has received as much press as The Producers, but, somehow, the attention isn't working the same magic. Last week the show was ready to close, after a long, tortuous fight for audiences, but pop star Alanis Morrisette cast away the grim reaper with a single wave of her checkbook. Then, on May 20, Jane Eyre herself, aka Marla Schaffel, pulled off an upset and walked away with the Drama Desk Award for best actress in a musical. A harbinger for the Tonys? Perhaps producers thought so. Box office figures ending last week were encouraging, an increase of $48,000 over the previous week, and the moneymen decided to take a risk and soldier on.

Brian Kerwin and John Spencer star in Glimmer, Glimmer and Shine; Marla Schaffel and James Barbour in Jane Eyre; MTC's Lynne Meadows and Rebecca Gilman.
Brian Kerwin and John Spencer star in Glimmer, Glimmer and Shine; Marla Schaffel and James Barbour in Jane Eyre; MTC's Lynne Meadows and Rebecca Gilman. (Photo by Spencer and Gilman photos by Aubrey Reuben; <i>Jane Eyre</i> photo by Joan Marcus)

In recent days, the struggling Broadway musical Jane Eyre has received as much press as The Producers, but, somehow, the attention isn't working the same magic. Last week the show was ready to close, after a long, tortuous fight for audiences, but pop star Alanis Morrisette cast away the grim reaper with a single wave of her checkbook. Then, on May 20, Jane Eyre herself, aka Marla Schaffel, pulled off an upset and walked away with the Drama Desk Award for best actress in a musical. A harbinger for the Tonys? Perhaps producers thought so. Box office figures ending last week were encouraging, an increase of $48,000 over the previous week, and the moneymen decided to take a risk and soldier on.

So, it was good news and more good news for Jane Eyre for, oh, about a week. Then the Tony Awards people told the Bronte brood that their show would get 1 minute 36 seconds on the June 3 broadcast, rather than the previously-promised 3 minutes 20 seconds. This produced one of those insufferable tempest-in-a-teapot crises that always seem to surround the Tony broadcast and which the press slavishly cover down to the minutest detail and pettiest complaint. Nonetheless, the folks at Thornfield Hall appear determined to hold on until awards night. Jane was always a stubborn girl.

Getting back to the Drama Desk Awards, that ceremony went down last Sunday, resulted in a heap of laurels for The Producers and awards for a number of names you're likely to hear again at Radio City Music Hall: Mary-Louise Parker, Jack O'Brien, Viola Davis, Nathan Lane and Susan Stroman. David Yazbek won for best score, a precedent which may worry Mel Brooks (who wasn't at the event; he's never at any of these events; he's the most ubiquitous invisible man on Broadway). And Pamela Gien of The Syringa Tree won for solo performance.

Gien also had fans among the Downtown crowd, as she was awarded the best play honor at the OBIE Awards ceremony, held the following night. Co-hosts Brian Murray and Marian Seldes, co-stars of the hit Off-Broadway Edward Albee play, The Play About the Baby, not only handed out awards—they received a couple themselves. Murray was recognized for his performance in the Albee work, while Seldes won an OBIE for Sustained Achievement. Among the shows overlooked by other award-giving bodies but recognized by the OBIE committee were References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot by Jose Rivera; Urinetown by Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis; Eli's Comin', the Vineyard Theatre show which utilizes the songs of Laura Nyro; and performer-playwright's Ruben Santiago-Hudson's Lackawanna Blues.

One of the most famous artistic directors in the nation, Robert Brustein of American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, MA, named his successor. Avant-garde director Robert Woodruff will take the helm when Brustein steps down at the end of next season, thus ensuring that the company will in all likelihood uphold its reputation for serious-minded, and often fiercely anti-commercial, theatre. On the west coast, the David Henry Hwang revision of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song — given up for dead when Los Angeles' Ahmanson Theatre pulled the plug in December when funds couldn't be raised to mount the show — has been taken up by the Mark Taper Forum, which added it to their 2001-02 season. Now Robert Longbottom will mount the musical. And while we're talking of California stagings of Asian-themed plays, the world premiere of Naomi Iizuka's 36 Views, a co-production with New York City's Public Theatre, will kick off the 2001-02 season at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Mark Wing-Davey directs the play, in which a mysterious one-of-a-kind Japanese pillow book is discovered, setting the field of Asian antiquity on its ear. In the heartland, Marion McClinton — lately a big noise in New York, but an old hand in the regions — will continue his journey through the work of August Wilson by helming a new production of Joe Turner's Come and Gone at Missouri Repertory Theatre in Kansas City in May 2002. With Joe Turner, McClinton will become the only director to have staged all eight existing plays in Wilson's projected ten play cycle examining the African-American experience in each decade of the last century.

Off-Broadway, the estate of Jonathan Larson went tick, tick...BOOM! on May 23, when previews began for this autobiographical work once performed as a solo act by the late composer of Rent. Raúl Esparza and Amy Spanger are the songwriter and his girlfriend, while Jerry Dixon plays his pal. And at Manhattan Theater Club, there were two openings, one for Melanie Marnich's Blur and one for Warren Leight's Glimmer, Glimmer and Shine.

Featured earlier this year at MTC was Boy Gets Girl by Rebecca Gilman, the playwright who has a rock-steady home in Chicago at the Goodman Theatre but seems to have become a bouncing ball in New York City. Each new Gilman play pops up at a different Gotham theatre: Spinning Into Butter at Lincoln Center Theater, Boy Gets Girl at MTC, and, now set for the fall, The Glory of Living at MCC Theatre. She also hasn't settled on one interpreter of her work. Daniel Sullivan piloted Butter, but at MTC, Lynne Meadow oversaw the late Michael Maggio's direction. Philip Seymour Hoffman, the actor who directed the high-octane Jesus Hopped the A Train, will mount The Glory of Living. The drama is a dark and violent story about a 15-year- old child bride is turned into a multiple murderer by her demented husband, and based in part on a real Alabama murder Gilman had heard about during her senior year of college. Hmm. The racial tension of Butter and the stalking of Boy are beginning to look like light fare.