PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, April 8-14: Good Stuff

ICYMI   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, April 8-14: Good Stuff The war in Iraq received some rare positive press coverage on April 14, when reviews came out for the Public Theater's New York premiere of David Hare's quasi-documentary "history play" about the Bush administration's mad dash to Middle East conflict, Stuff Happens.
Gloria Reuben in Stuff Happens.
Gloria Reuben in Stuff Happens. Photo by Michal Daniel

Reviewers who had seen the London premiere at the Royal National Theatre two years ago thought the play benefited from some Hare rewrites, Dan Sullivan's tighter, more modest staging, and the less high-handed characterizations of the American cast. Peter Francis James, a dependable New York stage actor, was singled out for particular praise for his performances in the pivotal role of the Secretary of State Colin Powell, as was Gloria Reuben's inscrutable Condoleezza Rice. At least one reviewer called the play the best political theatre piece to emerge since the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

Will stuff happen for Stuff Happens? The show has already extended a full month. The notices would seem to call for a further extension, though at press time no announcement had been made. A commercial transfer would also seem to be a possibility, though the drama's large cast would represent a financial stumbling block.

Another British import didn't fare as well when it opened this week. This was Festen, playwright David Eldridge and director Rufus Norris' theatrical adaptation of the dark Dogme film of the same name, in which a revelation at a festive dinner party sends a family reeling. The show was a bonafied critical smash in London. Here, however, it got a couple good notices, a couple bad notices, but many mixed marks, with the blame most often pinned on that frequent poison pill to British transfers: a new American cast.

One final Broadway note: the Patrick Wilson-Amanda Peet revival of Neil Simon 's Barefoot in the Park will climb its last flight of tenement stairs May 21.

*** Down in sunny Florida, there's trouble in Coconut Grove. The longstanding playhouse reopened April 13, but for a while there it looked like the grove had been felled for good. The Playhouse shut down April 12 when checks to suppliers and employees bounced. Signs were posted on the theatre's doors. Coconut Grove is more than $4 million in debt, board chairwoman Shelly Spivack told the Miami Herald. Sonia Flew was scheduled to play Coconut Grove April 18-May 7, but the troupe was $200,000 short for the production and creative people were told not to plan on it. Enter Lucie Arnaz . The frequent Grove headliner, due to star in Sonia Flew, reportedly raised more than $150,000 and the board said the show would go on. But the debt remains.

***

Kevin Spacey has experienced his share of disappointments since he made the surprising move to become the artistic director of London's famed Old Vic in 2003. His regime got off to a shaky start in 2004 with Cloaca and ballyhooed productions like a revival of The Philadelphia Story proved critical disappointments. More recently, he was forced to curtail the London premiere of Robert Altman's poorly received production of Arthur Miller's penultimate play, Resurrection Blues, a production from which actress Jane Adams mysteriously bolted mid-run, never to return.

But this week, the Spacey era reached its nadir. The actor-manager announced that the Old Vic would go dark for five months, not to produce anything until a fall revival of Eugene O'Neill's A Moon for the Misbegotten. Spacey responded to brickbats from the press with a defense of his work and decisions, and his conviction to serve out the whole of his 10-year contract.

***

Speaking of the Brits, who knew they liked Patrick Swayze so much?

Dirty Dancing , the musical which is set to move into the West End's Aldwych Theatre on Oct. 24 with previews from Sept. 29, has reportedly broken records with £3 million (over $5 million) worth of tickets sold within six weeks of the box office opening. But then, the property appears to be audience catnip across the globe. In Sydney, Australia, where the production made its debut in 2004, the show broke box office records with ticket sales close to a million. Speaking to London's Independent newspaper, producer Kevin Jacobsen described the star-crossed-love-in-the-Catskills story as a gift to the theatre world. Perhaps. But given the choice of gifts, I think most people would take the $5 million.