PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Oct. 30-Nov. 5: Roses for The Dead

News   PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Oct. 30-Nov. 5: Roses for The Dead The controversial play Corpus Christi debuted in both London and California over the past several days, and the resulting brouhaha added up to a horrendous week for playwright Terrence McNally. The California opening of the drama, at Santa Ana's Rude Guerilla Company, was greeted with hate mail and threats of protest, an echo of the firestorm which surrounded the 1998 Off-Broadway run of the play, which depicts a gay Christ-like figure. That was nothing, however, compared to the reaction the London staging elicited. Shortly after the opening at Pleasance Theatre, an Islamic splinter group, the Shari' Ah Court, issued a Fatwa against McNally. Sheik Omar Bakri Muhammed, the Court's Judge, said the Fatwa was declared so that "those who are insulting to Allah and his messengers must learn that it is a crime."
The company of The Dead; Terrence McNally; Mark McKinney in Fuddy Meers.
The company of The Dead; Terrence McNally; Mark McKinney in Fuddy Meers. (Photo by <i>Dead, Fuddy Meers</i> Photos by Joan Marcus)

The controversial play Corpus Christi debuted in both London and California over the past several days, and the resulting brouhaha added up to a horrendous week for playwright Terrence McNally. The California opening of the drama, at Santa Ana's Rude Guerilla Company, was greeted with hate mail and threats of protest, an echo of the firestorm which surrounded the 1998 Off-Broadway run of the play, which depicts a gay Christ-like figure. That was nothing, however, compared to the reaction the London staging elicited. Shortly after the opening at Pleasance Theatre, an Islamic splinter group, the Shari' Ah Court, issued a Fatwa against McNally. Sheik Omar Bakri Muhammed, the Court's Judge, said the Fatwa was declared so that "those who are insulting to Allah and his messengers must learn that it is a crime."

McNally, who suddenly found himself unhappily in the company of novelist Salman Rushdie, had no comment on the decision. A ray of hope came from the Islamic Cultural Center and Central Islamic Mosque, which told Playbill On-Line the Shari' Ah Council is a minor fundamentalist faction with "no authority whatsoever to issue a Fatwa or any matter of concern to the Muslims of Britain."

Back in New York, that sound you hear over at Broadway's Belasco Theatre is the shuffling of plays. The east-of-Broadway house was to have been the home of the Julie Harris vehicle Scent of the Roses, which began performances in Nyack, New York, Oct. 30, and was to arrive in New York Nov. 30. But producer Arthur Cantor's show recently lost "a big hunk of money" and it now looks like Roses won't be blooming on Broadway until late winter or early spring 2000.

Roses' misfortune was enough to make the Off-Broadway hit The Dead rise up from its sold-out run at Playwrights Horizon and start staggering toward the Belasco. Producer Gregory Mosher is considering a limited run for the James Joyce musical sometime this spring. The Dead concludes its Off-Broadway run Nov. 28.

If Broadway is short of plays this fall, Off-Broadway certainly is not. This past week saw two new plays -- Donald Margulies' Dinner with Friends at the Variety Arts, and David Lindsay Abaire's Fuddy Meers at Manhattan Theatre Club - open and claim the best reviews for any straight play yet this season. The two works couldn't be more different. Margulies' Dinner is a sensitive, perceptive examination of marital unrest; Lindsay-Abaire's Fuddy is a delirious slice of Durang-esque comedy in which Claire, a woman who loses her memory every morning, wakes up to find the people around her aren't much more adept than her at communication or life. The ubiquitous J. Smith-Cameron plays the cheerfully short-memoried Claire. Fuddy Meers was one of two show which helped to open the Manhattan Theatre Club's 1999-2000 season. The other was Shelagh Stephenson's An Experiment with an Air Pump, starring the redoubtable Daniel Gerroll and Linda Emond, which opened Oct. 31. Meanwhile, further downtown, In the Blood began previews Nov. 2 at the Public Theater, getting that nonprofit's season underway. This latest by Suzan-Lori Parks is a modern take of Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter.

Around the country, Chicago will have to wait for a second coming of the new revival of Jesus Christ Superstar. The revival was to have stopped in the Windy City before hitting Broadway this coming spring, but canceled the date due to "scheduling problems among the JCS creative team" (which could mean anything). Instead, Chicago will be the first stop of an expected post-Broadway tour.

Calista Flockhart enjoyed her Off-Broadway turn in Neal LaBute's bash so much, she will reprise her performance at Beverly Hill's Canon Theatre beginning Nov. 27, with original cast members Paul Rudd and Ron Eldard, and original director Joe Mantello.

And in New Jersey, the Paper Mill Playhouse of New Jersey opened a new version of the 1986 Broadway musical Rags. The staging by Jeffrey B. Moss had its roots in a revised production that played the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami. The book has been clarified by librettist Joseph Stein over the years, and composer Charles Strouse and lyricist Stephen Schwartz have refined the score since Coconut Grove.

Who's the most prosperous person working on Broadway this season? I don't know their names, but its whoever owns the rights to Louis Prima's jazz classic, "Sing, Sing, Sing," and the Benny Goodman recording of the composition. It seems no Broadway show may open these days without including the propulsive swing anthem in its score. Fosse has concluded its every performance with the number for nearly a year, and the song figures prominently in the third and final vignette of the hit, Broadway-bound, "dance-play" Contact. Now, there's Swing!, the all-dance show which began previews at the St. James Nov. 2. And what does the cast move its feet to come finale time? One guess. Is it too late to work the song into Marie Christine?

--By Robert Simonson