PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, April 4-10: Torture, and Why They Love It

ICYMI   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, April 4-10: Torture, and Why They Love It Christopher Durang returned to glory — at least in the view of many critics — on April 5, when his new play Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them opened at the Public Theater.
Amir Arison in Why Torture Is Wrong.
Amir Arison in Why Torture Is Wrong. Photo by Joan Marcus

The new work — a surreally comic broadside on America's way with paranoia and needless violence — was directed by Nicholas Martin, and features Durang old-hand Kristine Nielsen, and Durang new-hands John Pankow, Audrie Neenan, David Aaron Baker and Richard Poe. Critics called it hilarious and just the sort of acute social satire Durang is most capable of. Some also called the play a return to form for the writer, and his funniest in ages (seemingly forgetting that Betty's Summer Vacation, just a decade ago, was given the same sort of accolades, and Miss Witherspoon, in 2005, did just fine by the critics.)

The Public quickly responded by extending the run an additional week of performances through May 3 in the Newman Theater.

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There's a fair chance that the crew behind Torture half expected the reviews they got. But did the producers of Rock of Ages — the 1980s-music-fueled jukebox musical that opened on Broadway April 7 — anticipate the big bear hug that it got from the press? Something in me doubts it.

Constantine Maroulis and Amy Spanger in Rock of Ages
photo by Joan Marcus

Yes, much of the music — by the likes of Journey, Bon Jovi, Styx, Reo Speedwagon, Pat Benatar, Foreigner, Twisted Sister, Poison, Asia, Whitesnake (uh, I'm getting a bit queasy just typing these names) — is bad, said the critics. Yes, the hair and outfits are horrendous. Yes, the tale of a small-town girl meeting a big-city rocker is as hoary as they come. But, God, wasn't it a good time! As a guilty pleasure, Rock of Ages got every encomium the reviewers could dish up. The show stars Constantine Maroulis, Amy Spanger and James Carpinello — who, at this point, might as well be the poster boy of the jukebox music genre, having starred in Saturday Night Fever and (until he busted his ankle) Xanadu.

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Tina Howe's latest, Chasing Manet, opened April 9 at Primary Stages in a production starring Jane Alexander and Lynn Cohen as two inhabitants of the Mount Airy Nursing Home who plot an escape to Paris aboard the QE2. The critical corps weighed in saying the play had a surfeit of whimsy, quirk and cliché, and easy laughs — and that none of those things were exactly a good thing. A few other reviewers, however, thought the drama sufficiently moving and engaging.

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Laurie Metcalf

Laurie Metcalf, the Steppenwolf Theatre Company vet who was most recently on Broadway in November, will star in the upcoming Broadway revivals of Neil Simon's autobiographical Brighton Beach Memoirs and Broadway Bound. She will play the family matriarch, Kate Jerome, a part created by Elizabeth Franz in the former and played by Linda Lavin in the latter. As previously reported, Our Town's David Cromer will direct the productions, which will begin rehearsals in mid-August.

According to a recent casting notice, two actors (rather than one) are now being sought to play Eugene — a younger Eugene for Brighton Beach Memoirs and an older Eugene for Broadway Bound. Matthew Broderick created the role on Broadway in 1983. Jonathan Silverman was Eugene in 1986, opposite Lavin.

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It has been a good while since New York has seen the work of that social archeologist, Anna Deavere Smith — of Fires in the Mirror and Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 fame. But this fall Second Stage will stage her latest work, Let Me Down Easy, about the body, health and health care (not an untimely topic, given the Obama administration's new focus). Smith presented Let Me Down Easy at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, MA, and more recently at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, CT. The upcoming Second Stage production will feature many changes.

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