PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Feb. 27-March 5: Miracle Worker and McDonagh on Broadway

ICYMI   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Feb. 27-March 5: Miracle Worker and McDonagh on Broadway There were two big Broadway openings this week, both plays, one a new work, one a revival. Neither did fantastically well with the critics, but neither did they do fantastically badly.
Alison Pill
Alison Pill Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

The first to open was the first Broadway revival of William Gibson's The Miracle Worker, the coming-of-age tale of Helen Keller placed in the arena-style setting at Circle in the Square Theatre. The tale, inspired by a true story, took Broadway by the throat when it opened half a century ago, making stars of Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke. If critics were not quite bowled over this time, they did find that the play still had a central dramatic pull, even it the structure and creaky language were showing their age. The less kind among the reviewers found the staging uninspired and pedestrian, if serviceable, and praise for Abigail Breslin as Helen Keller and Alison Pill as Annie Sullivan, as well as director Kate Whoriskey was muted.

More highly anticipated was the world-premiere Broadway production of Martin McDonagh's A Behanding in Spokane, the Irish playwright's first play set in America, his first play to premiere in America, and his first play to appear after the playwright said he wasn't going to write plays anymore. So, as you can imagine, there was some excitement about the project. It opened March 4 with a cast including Christopher Walken, Zoe Kazan, Anthony Mackie and Sam Rockwell telling the macabre story of an obsessed man on the hunt for his missing appendage and the people he terrorizes along the way.

The play was met with less fanfare than has typically been the case in recent years, where such McDonagh works as The Lieutenant of Inishmore and The Pillowman have been hailed to the skies. The New York Times' Ben Brantley, the biggest McDonagh booster in town, found the work disappointing, aside from a prime performance from Christopher Walken as the story's central crazy. Other critics echoed his impressions: the play was insubstantial, sketchy and even lazy, with little to offer beyond Walken's creepy virtuosity and Scott Pask seedy hotel room set. But Walken's a bonafide star. And stars are what people pay to see these days. He may be enough to sell a trip to Spokane.

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Producer David Shor, who is developing Sleepless in Seattle–The Musical for Broadway, announced March 3 that Michelle Citrin, Michael Garin and Josh Nelson will collaborate on the music and lyrics for the show, which is aiming for a Broadway bow on Valentine's Day 2011. Jeff Arch, who penned the film's original story and co-wrote the Oscar-nominated screenplay with Nora Ephron and David Ward, will write the musical's libretto. Joel Zwick, who helmed the hit film "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," will direct.

That's a whole lot of non-Broadway names on a Broadway project. In answer to the big "Who?" that followed that announcement, here's some info. Citrin is the co-creator, writer and star of YouTube sensations "Rosh Hashanah Girl," "20 Things to do with Matzah" and "Pass the Candle." Garin co-wrote and co-starred in the Off-Broadway musical of many years back Song of Singapore. And Nelson is a composer, producer, multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter who has released five CDs.

Gushed Shor, "Who knew that Facebook and YouTube would break the mold to discover new voices for the theatre?"

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Hot director David Cromer, acclaimed for staging Our Town in Chicago and Off-Broadway, and crowned with an Alex Witchel profile in the New York Times magazine, was announced to direct Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, featuring Natasha Lowe as Blanche and Matt Hawkins as Stanley, for Writers' Theatre in suburban Chicago. Performances play May 4-July 11.

Cromer returns to Writers' Theatre, where he directed Picnic, Booth, The Price and Oscar Remembered. His current productions in New York City are Off-Broadway's Our Town at Barrow Street Theatre and When the Rain Stops Falling at Lincoln Center Theater. His Picnic will come to Broadway in 2010.

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Could playwright David Ives finally be on the brink of getting his Broadway debut as a solo act?

Commercial producers have been hovering around Ives' two-character play, Venus in Fur, ever since Jan. 26, when the world-premiere production by Off-Broadway's Classic Stage Company got solid reviews from critics. Producer Robert Fox is at the front of the line. Fox told the New York Times that he wants to find "a very intimate" Broadway house for the Walter Bobbie-directed play. No such venues are currently available.

Young actress Nina Arianda got especially good reviews in Venus in Fur, playing opposite Wes Bentley in the play, which is inspired by the infamous erotic novel of the same name, and "takes us behind the scenes of an audition, where a man and a woman blur the lines between fantasy and reality, seduction and power, love and sex."

Ives has been on Broadway before, but with adaptations of old musical books and old plays, and one original musical book — never with one of his many original plays.

The cast of <i>A Behanding in Spokane</i> take its opening night bow
The cast of A Behanding in Spokane take its opening night bow Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN
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