PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 29-Feb. 4: Bad for Good; Pleasure for Pain

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 29-Feb. 4: Bad for Good; Pleasure for Pain It just didn't pay to be big and rich this week.
Top: Good Vibrations, Bottom: Thom Pain
Top: Good Vibrations, Bottom: Thom Pain

Filling the stage of the Eugene O'Neill with a crowd of young handsome actors and scads of Beach Boys songs, the producers of the multi-million-dollar musical Good Vibrations got only brickbats for their trouble. Meanwhile, down on Union Square, a quirky, low-budget one-hour, one-person play called Thom Pain (based on nothing) by the unfamous Will Eno and starring the only slightly less unknown James Urbaniak sent critic Charles Isherwood on his first trip over the moon since he began writing for the New York Times last fall. The tiny show did an unbelievable $152,000 in sales the day Isherwood's review appeared. Extension and transfers are being contemplated.

Long stays are less of a likelihood for Good Vibrations. The show, directed and choreographed by John Carrafa with a book by Richard Dresser, had a terrible reputation from its first preview. And the delay of the opening night and drafting of show doctor David Warren did nothing to dispel the gossip. Also, though the show obviously used Mamma Mia! as a template for success, and was not terribly different from that show in its overall execution, critics who had loved the ABBA musical savaged its aesthetic apostle. A surfeit of jukebox musicals can do that to a critic, especially when he knows there are plenty more to follow.

Following the Feb. 2 opening, there arrived a new cycle of rumors. The hit Off-Broadway production of David Rabe's Hurlyburly is circling the O'Neill, according to some reports. But, by week's end, Good Vibrations showed no signs of budging.

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A Broadway pedigree didn't help Brooklyn Boy much either. The new play by Pulitzer winner Donald Margulies opened at Manhattan Theatre Club's Biltmore Theatre on Feb. 3. Critics sheathed their swords for the story of a Brooklyn author's reexamination of his past. But though some smiled, nobody got terribly excited either. ("Doggedly unsurprising" were the Times' words.) ***

Across the ocean, London's National Theatre announced its new season. The biggest news was that Michael Gambon—arguably Britain's biggest male stage star—will fill a role he was born to play: Falstaff. Nicholas Hytner will direct the production of Henry IV, Parts One and Two, which, amazingly, has never been staged at the National. It follows last season's Lincoln Center Theater success with the play, in which Kevin Kline played Falstaff to acclaim. Also of note: the great, aged John Wood will act opposite Gambon as Shallow. The show will play the Olivier in rep beginning April 26 and running through August.

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Finally, on Feb. 3, for the first time since Dutch master architect Rem Koolhaas designed Second Stage's dramatic and very orange new space in midtown, the worlds of New York theatre and international architecture intersected. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg unveiled architects Frank Gehry and Hugh Hardy's collaborative design for Theatre for a New Audience's new home in the emerging BAM Cultural District in Downtown Brooklyn. The $35.8 million is an eye catcher. In keeping with Gehry's reputation for unorthodox structures and sometimes outrageous whimsy, it resembles an enormous, glass-and-metal packing box turned on its side, with a wall of glass covering the open end facing Flatbush Avenue. An undulated canopy snakes along the side and two arching side windows shed light on a series of curvilinear stairways and balconies inside, as well as a Milton Glaser mural integrating a series of portraits of The Bard. Looking at it from Flatbush may be something like encountering the screen of an ultra-modern drive-in movie theatre showing a feature starring Will Shakespeare. Hey, anything to get the theatregoing public's attention.

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