PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Aug. 15-21: Rocco's Rocky Beginning

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Aug. 15-21: Rocco's Rocky Beginning Producer Rocco Landesman, who is president of Jujamcyn Theaters, was confirmed as chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts on Aug. 7. And on Aug. 8 he was already in trouble!
Rocco Landesman
Rocco Landesman Photo by Aubrey Reuben

In his first official interview — with The New York Times, natch — Landesman, who has been known to ruffle a few feathers with his shoot-from-the-hip style, did just that. He observed that, in American politics generally, "The arts are a little bit of a target. The subtext is that it is elitist, left wing, maybe even a little gay." Perhaps not the best choice of words. But the comment that really raised hackles was this: "I don't know if there's a theatre in Peoria, but I would bet that it's not as good as Steppenwolf or the Goodman… There is going to be some push-back from me about democratizing arts grants to the point where you really have to answer some questions about artistic merit… And frankly, there are some institutions on the precipice that should go over it. We might be overbuilt in some cases."

Needless to say, the Peorias of the nation — and Peoria, IL, itself in particular — didn't care for that characterization. David Bonetti, writing in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, said that "having the director of the NEA saying that without ever having been there is stupid, just like having a president characterize the behavior of a Cambridge police officer as stupid is stupid. Know what I mean? Let's insist on evidence, facts before we make judgments, please!"

By the beginning of this week, Landesman found himself buying a plane ticket to Peoria. Suzette Boulais, the executive director of ArtsPartners of Central Illinois, an advocacy group, sent an e-mail message to Landesman inviting him to visit her area. And Kathy Chitwood, executive director of the Eastlight Theater in East Peoria, invited Landesman to see her theatre's production of Rent. (This proved impossible, because the show closed before Landesman could respond.)

"We're smaller — we get that — we know our place in the food chain of the arts," Chitwood said. "But we really have a place too, and our work is worthy."

*** We all know that theatre audiences no longer know how to behave, what with constantly talking, texting, phoning, unwrapping candy and eating buckets of chicken while they're supposed to be silently concentrating on the play.

But casting directors? You'd think they know the rules of decorum. But nothing can be counted on in these distracted days when people are rarely not indulging in some sort of technological communication. And so we have the case of young, so young, casting director Daryl Eisenberg, who was caught Twittering during a casting call — about the actors who were auditioning!

Imagine interviewing for a job, and having the personal resources guy behind the desk Twittering about you while you talked up your qualifications. That sort of thing wouldn't be acceptable at a McDonald's interview!

The offending actions occurred on Aug. 12, while Eisenberg was conducting a casting session for Gay Bride of Frankenstein, which will begin performances in late September as part of the New York Musical Theater Festival. Eisenberg commented on performances with messages like, "If we wanted to hear it a different way, don't worry, we'll ask," or "If you are going to sing about getting on your knees, might as well do it and crawl towards us ... right?"

It didn't take long for a debate on the appropriateness of Eisenberg's actions to hit the Internet. Although, really, most people didn't really think there was a debate; it was just wrong, insensitive and unprofessional. Eisenberg, meanwhile, initially defend herself with the old "Freedom of Speech" saw.

Soon enough, Actors' Equity Association, the union that represents actors and stage managers, got involved. Maria Somma, a spokeswoman for Actors' Equity, said: "It's a very long road for an actor to get from seeing the casting notice to getting that audition. To have it mocked is unfair to the actors and to the other people who are working on the particular project. It's very simply that there is an expected level of respect and professionalism, and these values were violated."

In a subsequent e-mail message Eisenberg offered apologies to "those hurt by this" and wrote that she would be "definitely considering the appropriateness and professionalism of the timing and tone of my communication in the future."

Does anyone else find this whole episode not so much funny, as infinitely depressing?

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John Lithgow and Jennifer Ehle
photo by Aubrey Reuben

John Lithgow and Jennifer Ehle will sink their teeth into the no-doubt juicy title roles of the upcoming Second Stage Theater world premiere of Douglas Carter Beane's Mr. & Mrs. Fitch Off-Broadway. They will play married gossip columnists. Scott Ellis directs the work, which is scheduled to begin previews Jan. 26, 2010. This may become the first Off-Broadway play in some time to regularly appear in the city's gossip sheets. ***

Yasmina Reza's Tony-winning, mega-hit comedy God of Carnage is now booking tickets through Feb. 28, 2010, at the Bernard Jacobs Theatre. Great! More opportunities for folks to see this hot ticket. But one snag: the starry cast of Marcia Gay Harden, James Gandolfini, Jeff Daniels and Hope Davis will only be staying through Nov. 14. Replacing the actors will be tough since, number one, starry foursomes such as that are hard to come by; and, two, few actors like to follow-up a socko act as critically acclaimed as that was that cast. Stay tuned.

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There's been a brief reversal of fortune over at Disney's The Little Mermaid, which is closing on Aug. 30. The final 16 Broadway performances at the Lunt-Fontanne are completely sold out. For those without tickets, cancellations and day-of standing room tickets are the only means of seeing the show.

Now they're coming!