PLAYBILL THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 14-20: Kevin Spacey at BAM, Starcatcher on Broadway, Spidey and a Web of Lawyers

News   PLAYBILL THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 14-20: Kevin Spacey at BAM, Starcatcher on Broadway, Spidey and a Web of Lawyers
 
The Roundabout Theatre Company's new production of Athol Fugard's play The Road to Mecca, starring Rosemary Harris, Carla Gugino and Jim Dale, opened this week at the American Airlines Theatre. The message from the critics could be boiled down into one sentence: Wait until the second act.

Rosemary Harris and Carla Gugino
Rosemary Harris and Carla Gugino Photo by Joan Marcus

"'It grows on you,' Harris' character says at the beginning of the play," wrote the AP. "She's talking about the small South African village where the action is set, but she might as well be describing the piece itself, which really only gets going in Act Two...The face-off between Elsa and the pastor has been a long time in coming — Act One drags on way too long simply to establish the jeopardy Miss Helen is in."

A number of critics complained of Fugard's "reams of exposition" and "windy speechifying" and the lack of spark in the long first act. "Load up on coffee before you embark on the dozy-cozy first act," wrote Time Out, "a virtual sleeping draught of dim lighting, tea service and puttering exposition." But the action after intermission, in particular a grand soliloquy by Harris' character, were worth the wait, some said.

"In this quiet, slow and ultimately powerful production, directed by Gordon Edelstein," wrote the Times, "Ms. Harris plays Miss Helen, an elderly South African woman who has hitherto seemed gracious, fretful and rather prosaic. Now she has given undiluted voice to the kind of fear that lurks in everyone — one of those personal fears that are so profound that people shirk from naming them. She is magnificent and shrunken, harrowed and harrowing."

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Julie Taymor
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Julie Taymor and the producers of Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark just can't bury the hatchet. While the once-troubled musical now posts record box-office takes week after week, the two sides continue to publicly air their differences. Back in November, Taymor sued the producers, claiming they violated her creative rights and hadn't properly compensated her. This week, the producers answered back, filing a countersuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York Jan. 17 against Julie Taymor and her company, LOH, Inc.

The producers now assert that although Taymor was contracted to co-write and collaborate on the musical, but she refused to fulfill her contractual obligations, declaring that "she could not and would not do the jobs that she was contracted to do." Taymor's recent lawsuit, say the counterclaims, is simply "an attempt to put Taymor in the same position she would have been had she fulfilled her obligations under her agreement and actually written a book for the Spider-Man Musical that could be opened on Broadway."

The producers also filed an antitrust lawsuit against the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, Inc., LOH, Inc. and Julie Taymor in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The lawsuit is in response to Taymor's similar request to be paid "full royalties as director and collaborator despite the fact that Taymor caused numerous delays, drove up costs, and failed to direct a musical about Spider-Man that could open on Broadway."

Lead producers of the musical are Michael Cohl and Jeremiah J. Harris.

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Kevin Spacey
photo by Alastair Muir

Across the East River, Kevin Spacey was opening his Richard III at BAM. The production is the final entry in The Bridge Project, a unique three-year series of co-productions by BAM, The Old Vic and Neal Street, devoted to producing large-scale, classical theatre for international audiences.

The show appears to be a happy finale for the enterprise, with reviews mainly on the positive side, and focusing on Spacey's prowess. "In a happy convergence of an actor and a role Mr. Spacey makes acting up a devastating storm both the form and content of his part in Richard III, which has been staged (none too subtly) by the Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes," wrote the Times. "[Spacey's performance] is consistent in its excesses, shaped by a sustained point of view."

"Spacey's Richard is overblown and cartoonish and yet impossible to stop watching," said AP. "He is part Groucho Marx and part Moammar Gadhafi — a sarcastic, snarling tornado of resentment whose reign of terror somehow is funny….Projections before each scene give the audience the name of the main character in it, helping immensely. But there is no fear of losing track of Spacey's Richard. He's to die for."

Some pointed out, however, that Spacey's success sometimes equaled the production's failure. "Spacey takes great advantage of the monologue-heavy text to foster winking complicity with the audience," said The Hollywood Reporter. "That certainly keeps this Richard III absorbing — even through an exhausting 2-hour first act. (All told, it clocks in at just under 3½ hours.) But it makes the production less effective as a multi-character history play than a single-subject portrait of power-mad amorality."

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Crystal A. Dickinson and Annie Parisse in the 2010 Off-Broadway production of Clybourne Park.
photo by Joan Marcus

A few spring Broadway shows found there homes this week. Peter and the Starcatcher, the prequel to the tale of Peter Pan that debuted in a wildly imaginative staging Off-Broadway last season, will begin Broadway performances March 28 at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.

The Broadway production of David Henry Hwang's Chinglish said it would close on Jan. 29, thus freeing up the Longacre Theatre for Magic/Bird, Eric Simonson's drama about the rivalry and friendship of basketball players Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. It begin previews March 21. 

And Bruce Norris' Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Clybourne Park, will open on Broadway April 12 at the Walter Kerr Theatre.

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Denver Center Theatre Company began performances this week of the world-premiere production of Lisa Loomer's new Passover Seder-set comedy Two Things You Don't Talk About at Dinner, directed by Wendy C. Goldberg.

The play is set at Myriam's Passover seder, which is attended by a multicultural mix of family and friends, offering the chance for politics and religion (the two things of the title) to hijack the conversation.

Another new Loomer play, Homefree, a DCTC commission, will be part of the coming 2012 Colorado New Play Summit. Her past plays include Living Out and The Waiting Room.

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The new musical Far From Heaven, adapted from the retro, Douglas Sirk-like film of the same name, will be part of the 2012 Williamstown Theatre Festival season in Massachusetts.

With a book by Richard Greenberg and an original score by Scott Frankel and Michael Korie (Grey Gardens), Far From Heaven will play the Main Stage July 19-29. Michael Greif directs. The choice lead role of Cathy Whitaker, a 1950s housewife facing challenges on several fronts, is yet to be cast.

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