PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Feb. 20-26: Out of the Park

ICYMI   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Feb. 20-26: Out of the Park Former actor and current playwright Bruce Norris has been scribbling away for some years now, garnering productions a-plenty and a heap of respect in Chicago, where his works are staged regularly. But one career-cementing thing always eluded him: a New York hit.
Clybourne Park stars Crystal A. Dickinson and Damon Gupton
Clybourne Park stars Crystal A. Dickinson and Damon Gupton

Now, he has that. Playwrights Horizons' world-premiere production of Norris' Clybourne Park, a dark comedy, opened on Feb. 21 to accolades for how the play tackled head-on, with invention and intelligence, the touchy and tricky subjects of race, real estate and gentrification. It was soon after granted a two-week extension, now to March 21.

Directed by Pam MacKinnon, the play, loosely inspired by Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun (Clybourne Park was the mostly white neighborhood the Youngers were moving to in that drama), has a cast includes Frank Wood, Annie Parisse, Jeremy Shamos, Crystal A. Dickinson, Brendan Griffin, Damon Gupton and Christina Kirk.

Playwrights Horizons has been New York's main supporter of Norris' plays (The Pain and the Itch, for example). Expect them to produce a few more in the future.

Another new Off-Broadway comedy, meanwhile, didn't fare as well. The world of gossip was scrutinized in the world premiere of Douglas Carter Beane's Mr. & Mrs. Fitch, which opened Feb. 22 at Second Stage Theater. Tony Award winners John Lithgow and Jennifer Ehle star. Scott Ellis, who had a success with Beane's The Little Dog Laughed, directed the work.

Unfortunately, critics found the comedy, about two married and scheming members of the Fourth Estate, on the shrill side, a bit too self-consciously clever for comfort, and not delving deep enough into its ripe subject. ***

Film director Abel Ferrara, who has directed such movies as "China Girl," "Body Snatchers" and "Bad Lieutenant," will helm a Broadway revival of Miguel Pinero's Short Eyes, according to Variety.

The play, which debuted on Broadway in 1974, is aiming for a limited run during the 2010-11 season. No casting has been announced; producers include Carl Rumbaugh, Susan Batson, Antone Pagan and Charles Rosen.

Pinero, who died at 41 in 1988, wrote the play while he was in jail serving time for armed robbery. Following an Off-Broadway debut at the Public Theater, Short Eyes played Broadway's Vivian Beaumont Theater.

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The Ohio Theatre

The Ohio Theatre, a 29-year fixture in Soho, is the latest Off-Broadway house to close its doors. It will shutter Aug. 31, according to a Feb. 23 press statement that reads, "The new landlord has issued official notice and no further negotiations are scheduled." The theatre is run by Soho Think Tank (STT) under artistic director Robert Lyons. In addition to presenting STT's work, the theatre's regular season, "STT Presents," hosts the work of a variety of other independent theatre companies for four-week runs.

The Ohio was one of the first theatres to open in the Soho area and one of the last still in operation. Lyons said in a statement, "It's where Tony Kushner produced his first play out of college, where Philip Seymour Hoffman made his professional acting debut, where Eve Ensler performed Dicks in the Desert, a decade before writing The Vagina Monologues. The Ohio Theatre has been an incubator and platform for New York's most exciting and innovative theatre artists for almost 30 years. Its closing emphatically punctuates the end of an era in Soho, and stands as a high profile casualty in the relentless decimation of the lower Manhattan theatre landscape."

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The new regime of the Metropolitan Opera continues to hire theatre directors to direct its operas. Nicholas Hytner and Bartlett Sher (already a Met vet), will direct productions there in the company's 2010-11 season.

Hytner will direct Don Carlo. The sets and costumes will be designed by fellow Tony winner Bob Crowley.

South Pacific Tony winner Sher will direct Rossini's Le Comte Ory. Costume designer Catherine Zuber and set designer Michael Yeargan, who also won Tonys for their contributions to the current Lincoln Center Theater revival of South Pacific, will work with Sher on this opera production. Sher scored a hit at the Met a few seasons back with his spin on The Barber of Seville.

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