PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, May 20-26: Contact, Meet Edna

News   PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, May 20-26: Contact, Meet Edna The Tonys may have saved themselves a lot of future headaches this week, when the award's Administration Committee met and decided to create a new award category, "Special Theatrical Event." The impetus behind the move was easy to see. Up until now, a show was either a musical or a play or out of luck. Unless, of course, it was given a special Tony, as Dame Edna was this year; and as Jackie Mason was for his first one man show.
John Gielgud in Home; Jean Smart in Fit to be Tied; Special Theatrical Event?
John Gielgud in Home; Jean Smart in Fit to be Tied; Special Theatrical Event? (Photo by <i>Fit to be Tied</i> by Joan Marcus)

The Tonys may have saved themselves a lot of future headaches this week, when the award's Administration Committee met and decided to create a new award category, "Special Theatrical Event." The impetus behind the move was easy to see. Up until now, a show was either a musical or a play or out of luck. Unless, of course, it was given a special Tony, as Dame Edna was this year; and as Jackie Mason was for his first one man show.

The new category should shorten future committee meetings, providing a simple answer to what have been vexing questions. For instance, if the category had been in place for this season, there is little question that unique and hybrid shows such as Dame Edna: The Royal Tour, Jackie Mason's Much Ado About Everything, Squonk, Riverdance -- On Broadway and -- most significantly -- Contact would be gathered under its umbrella. Which would have made for a lively and interesting category, to say the very least.

The main difficulty for the Tonys lies in Broadway producers' reaction to the category. Certainly, the folks behind future new musical such as The Visit and Jane Eyre will cheer at not having to compete with quasi-musicals like Contact and Riverdance. But producers have for years claimed that they can't sell tickets with anything other than the Best Play and Best Musical prizes. They may complain that a trophy proclaiming "Tony Award Winner -- Best Special Theatrical Event" is of no commercial use to them and continue to lobby for their shows to be termed musicals.

The Patrick Stewart affair came to an end this week and not in a particularly theatrical fashion. Stewart never appealed the findings of a May 11 Actors' Equity panel, called by the Shubert Organization after Stewart publicly complained from the stage of the Ambassador Theatre that the producers of The Ride Down Mt. Morgan has failed to properly market the show. As a result, the actor must write a formal apology to the Shuberts.

Broadway had no openings this week but did have one closing, and not a surprising one at that. Elaine May's Taller Than a Dwarf, which received a drubbing from the critics when it opened a few weeks ago, announced it would shutter on June 11. Those New Yorkers who were hoping to see Christine Baranksi in her first full-fledged stage turn in nearly a decade will have to keep waiting. Just as television, in the form of the sitcom "Cybill," robbed the theatre of Baranski's singular talents over the past many seasons, so again did the tube take Baranski from the upcoming Roundabout Theatre Company revival of The Man Who Came to Dinner. The actress was to have played the Tallulah Bankhead-like role of Lorraine Sheldon opposite Nathan Lane. A new TV series beckoned, however, so instead of opening the American Airlines Theatre, Baranski will be booking American Airlines for the coast. The equally talented Jean Smart has taken her place. Previews begin June 30.

Pegasus Players of Chicago made a national name for itself when it presented the American premiere of Stephen Sondheim's early work, Saturday Night in 1999. Sondheim's sometimes collaborator James Lapine appears to have been impressed. He has given the Windy City troupe the nod to debut his musical, Muscle. The show, once developed with Sondheim as a one act, is about an intellectual who becomes obsessed with bodybuilding. Lapine eventually teamed with composer William Finn and lyricist Ellen Fitzhugh to create the full-length work. Muscle will bow in June 2001.

Sir John Gielgud, the last member of a breed of great English actors which dominated the stage on both sides of the Atlantic from the late '20s through the 60s, died on May 22 at the age of 96. His death came just two days before a memorial service celebrating the life of producer Alexander Cohen. Cohen, more than any other modern producer, sponsored Gielgud's frequent trips to Broadway, bringing Sir John over in Home, The School for Scandal, Ages of Man, Ivanov and as director of the Richard Burton Hamlet.

Finally -- it's not the sort of award theatre artists dream about getting, but it may have something to do with their dreams. It's the Gradiva Award, given out annually by the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis (NAAP). And this year, it went to John Malkovich, for his direction of Terry Johnson's Hysteria at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company. In bestowing the Gradiva, NAAP hopes to honor "poets, artists, producers, directors, actors, musicians, publishers," and other "valuable allies." Hysteria is a dark comedy which concerns the last days of Sigmund Freud. A ceremony was held at Steppenwolf on May 24 following the 2 PM matinee. The company's current show? One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest -- perhaps, not next year's Gradiva recipient.

--By Robert Simonson