PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 23-29: Stars Align

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 23-29: Stars Align
 
Did Broadway really need a new production of Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge? Did it really need two plays in one season by Donald Margulies? Yes it did, and yes it did.
A View From the Bridge stars Scarlett Johansson and Liev Schreiber
A View From the Bridge stars Scarlett Johansson and Liev Schreiber Photo by Joan Marcus

Two solid smacks outa the park, Broadway saw this week a sight to cheer up an ashen producer's January face. Bridge, Miller's tale of a longshoreman's tragedy starring Liev Schreiber and Scarlett Johansson, was hailed as an all-out success, well-acted, solid, moving and directed with respectful, naturalistic grace by Gregory Mosher. Schreiber was once again called the stage actor of his generation, as he often is these days. And Hollywood's Johansson was commended for showing not a smidgen of unease on stage and matching her co-star talent for talent. Jessica Hecht, who played Schreiber's worried, nagging wife, also receive some of her best notices in years.

The reception was remarkable in a number of ways. It reconfirmed Bridge's place among Miller's masterpieces, granted Johansson the kind of stage cred that Hollywood actors crave — and that producers love box-office-igniting Hollywood actors to have. But, perhaps most importantly, it marked Mosher's triumphant return to the New York theatre after many years in the wilderness. Mosher, lest we forget, was artistic director of the Goodman Theatre and the first head of Lincoln Center Theater, bringing both those institutions great success, and directing the first productions of many of David Mamet's early plays. But he willingly walked away from it all in 1991, and has only been seen fleetingly in these parts since. This success may change that.

The wave of enthusiastic reviews for A View From the Bridge prompted "close to $500,000" in box office sales on Jan. 25, the day after the revival of Miller's drama opened at the Cort Theatre. The box office boost and the raves don't necessarily translate to an extension, however. Johansson has her film commitments to think about. But the wheels are in motion and producers are trying to find a way around that.

Meanwhile, over in the world on nonprofit, Margulies' Time Stands Still was hailed as a sensitive, thoughtful, engaging portrait of journalists trying to adjust to a quieter life, and to each other, after returning home from covering war. Margulies was appreciated in a way he hasn't been since Dinner With Friends. Stars Laura Linney, Brian d'Arcy James, Eric Bogosian and Alicia Silverstone were all roundly cheered and more than one source termed Dan Sullivan's direction "flawless." They were easily the best reviews for a new play presented by Manhattan Theatre Club at its Broadway outlet since Rabbit Hole.

*** Off-Broadway, the Signature Theatre Company opened the final installment of the late playwright Horton Foote's final masterwork, The Orphans' Home Cycle, a nine-play experience. Given how jubilantly the previous two installments were received, Signature could hardly lose, and lose it did not. The odyssey of Horace Robedaux and his family in a small Texas town was hailed as wonderful, fulfilling, a masterpiece. The production has been extended through May 8.

Also applauded, though not as loudly, was Classic Stage Company's world-premiere production of David Ives' new two-character play, Venus in Fur, inspired by the erotic 1870 novel by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. Critics found the play's tug of war between a playwright-director and an auditioning actress witty, nimble and entertaining as it slipped back and forth between the play and the play-within-a-play. Receiving special praise was actress Nina Arianda, a newcomer.

Critics didn't think Sam Shepard's Ages of the Moon — the story of a 50-year friendship, with a lot of talking and drinking between two old coots on a porch — offered much in the way of drama. But they commended the spotless production and thought the two stars, Stephen Rea and Seán McGinley, made the most of their material. End verdict: watchable, entirely watchable. The reviews were enough to extend the show for two additional weeks.

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Following a recent Manhattan workshop presentation of Leap of Faith, the new musical with songs by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater, Center Theatre Group is taking its own leap of faith: It will produce the world premiere this summer at the Ahmanson Theatre.

Based on the 1992 film comedy about a sham evangelist named Jonas Nightingale, who inspires a gullible town, the show is expected to begin at the Ahmanson in Los Angeles in early September for a run through mid-October, according to a casting notice. Tony Award winner Rob Ashford will direct and choreograph what is expected to be a Broadway-bound production.

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Jeff Daniels

Jeff Daniels is having a little fun. The actor is returning to the hit Broadway comedy God of Carnage in March, but — pulling an Ed Begley — not to the same role he played in the production's New York premiere. Instead of obnoxious lawyer Alan, he will play misanthropic milquetoast husband Michael. He will be joined by original West End cast member Janet McTeer, Dylan Baker and Lucy Liu.

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Finally, Benedict Nightingale, chief theatre critic of the London Times since 1990, is stepping down from the post, and will be replaced from June by broadcaster, journalist and author Libby Purves.

Nightingale's departure is a major one in the world of British critics. He is 70 years old, and has also previously held a long-standing post as theatre critic of the New Statesman, where he served for some 18 years from 1969 to 1986, during which time he also took a sabbatical to serve as the Sunday critic for the New York Times from 1983-1984. He wrote his first review in 1957, and started his career in national newspapers as northern critic for The Guardian from 1963. The shows those old eyes have seen.

In a press statement, the editor of The Times, James Harding, commented, "Benedict has been the leading theatre critic of his generation and has written for The Times for 20 years, setting the standard by which the great performances and productions are judged. People onstage, backstage and in the audience have come to trust his every observation and judgement delivered with style, humor and passion. Benedict has ensured that Times readers have the best writing on what has been a golden age for British theatre and he will remain a contributor to the paper."

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