PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, April 7-13: Hello, Blackbird

ICYMI   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, April 7-13: Hello, Blackbird
 
Before it even opened, Manhattan Theatre Club's scheduled American premiere of English playwright David Harrower's Olivier Award-winning Blackbird, looked intriguing. It starred Jeff Daniels, the film star and stage veteran who hasn't been seen in the flesh in New York in more than 10 years. His co-star was Alison Pill, who impressed critics and Tony Award nominators for her work in The Lieutenant of Inishmore. And the director was Joe Mantello, one of the more redoubtable directorial talents in town.
Alison Pill and Jeff Daniels star in Blackbird.
Alison Pill and Jeff Daniels star in Blackbird. Photo by Joan Marcus

After it opened on April 10, however, interest skyrocketed. Critics reached deep into their trove of superlatives to describe the harrowing encounter between a young woman and an older man who had embarked on a life-rending affair 15 years earlier when the girl was 12. Reviewers called it powerful, unrelenting and discomforting. As one critic wrote of the characters: "They are off-putting and fascinating at the same time. Sort of like the play itself." (This was all meant as praise, mind you.) Daniels, who has been on a career roll since earning plaudits for his performance in the film "The Squid and the Whale," was particularly acclaimed.

Soon enough, the limited run was extended to June 10, and commercial producers began to circle. Stay tuned.

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A new production of O'Neill's A Moon for the Misbegotten—the second on Broadway in less than a decade—opened April 9. The production, starring Kevin Spacey as James Tyrone and Eve Best as his hardscrabble love Josie, began its life at the Old Vic in London, where it reaped great reviews. But something must have been lost in the crossing for, while the notices weren't bad at all, a few important critics had serious reservations about Spacey's performances, which they found too comic and vaudevillian, and delivered at too rat-a-tat a pace. Best, however, was generally loved.

*** Also opening this week was another revival of another American classic which hasn't been long missing from Broadway: Inherit the Wind. Director Doug Hughes took his hand to the play about the Scopes "Monkey" trial this time. Starring were two seasoned old hands, Brian Dennehy and Christopher Plummer. Critics found the old play still had plenty of spark and vim in it and gave it (and its stars) largely high marks. It plays the Lyceum.

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The Tony Administration Committee assembled for the fourth time during the 2006-2007 theatre season April 12. It emerged from the meeting with decisions regarding the eligibility of four Broadway shows. The most interesting ruling, perhaps, was that all three parts of Tom Stoppard's The Coast of Utopia trilogy would be considered as one play in the Best Play category. One long play, to be sure, but one play nonetheless. Utopia actor Brían F. O'Byrne will be eligible for nomination in the Leading Actor in a Play category.

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Director Christopher Ashley has a new job and, unlike most of his past jobs, it won't end in three months. He has been named the new artistic director of San Diego's La Jolla Playhouse. Ashley will succeed Tony Award winner Des McAnuff, who is departing the famed theatre to become an artistic director at the Stratford Festival in Ontario. McAnuff will assume the newly created position as La Jolla Playhouse Director Emeritus. Ashley will commence work in October.

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As Curtains continues to play on Broadway, another John Kander and Fred Ebb musical begins at the Westport Country Playhouse in Westport, CT.

Shuler Hensley, Eartha Kitt and Cady Huffman star in the new All About Us, which started April 10. Gabriel Barre directs the piece, which is based on Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize-winning play The Skin of Our Teeth. Opening is April 14.

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The composing team Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford, a force in musical theatre in the 1970s, have kept pretty quiet in recent years. But this season they're back with two shows. Their Theatreworks/USA production of the new musical Anne of Green Gables began performances March 23 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. And, starting April 10, they returned to their best-known work I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It On the Road. The two women star in the 1978 piece at 59E59 Theaters. The limited engagement will play through April 20.

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On April 6, the producers of Deuce, the much-anticipated new Terrence McNally play that boasts the return to the stage of Tony Award winner Angela Lansbury, announced that it had decided to make itself ineligible for Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Drama League races—that is, nearly every New York theatre award that judges Broadway shows save the Tonys.

A spokesperson for the play told Playbill.com, "The eligibility requirements for [Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Drama League] awards asked that the nominators of the respective organizations be accommodated to see the show after only a week of performances. We decided that this was too much pressure to put on the cast and the production."

Such decisions have become more common in recent years, as Broadway productions and awards bodies endeavor to align their various deadlines to the mutual satisfaction of both parties. Award-giving entities know that the Tony trumps all when it comes to publicity and prestige. In order to cull attention for their nominations, the various non-Tony organizations announce nominations, dates and hosts as early as possible, so as to enjoy the optimum number of days in the sun before the towering Tony arrives and eclipses them all.

At the same time, the Tonys keep extending the eligibility deadline, which used to end in late April or May 1, but now typically stretches a week into May. This encourages Broadway producers to schedule their opening later and later, so as to remain fresh in nominator's minds. Later opening days mean later first previews, as well as later press previews. Too late to fit into the schedule of Drama Desk et al. And so, a big deal show like Deuce will not be in the running for the smaller awards.

The producers of Deuce used the word "regret" in their letter to the awards bodies. But most likely, the regret is all on the side of the prize-givers, who, one would think, don't feel as prized as they might have. The producers know that a show starring Lansbury is a hot property, and it doesn't need all that much attention form trophy-mongers to become a hit. The showmen also, I'm guessing, won't miss doling out all those complimentary tickets to countless nominators and voters.

Kevin Spacey and Eve Best in <i>A Moon for the Misbegotten</i>.
Kevin Spacey and Eve Best in A Moon for the Misbegotten. Photo by Lorenzo Agius
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