PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 29-Feb. 4: Victoria Clark Dons a Habit, Three Sisters, Whipping Man Whip Up Interest

ICYMI   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 29-Feb. 4: Victoria Clark Dons a Habit, Three Sisters, Whipping Man Whip Up Interest
 
Things were cooking this week Off-Broadway.

Matthew Lopez
Matthew Lopez Photo by Krissie Fullerton

With The Whipping Man, Manhattan Theatre Club has one of its more solid and serious Off-Broadway hits in years.

The unusual Matthew Lopez play — a historical drama about a Confederate Jewish solider returning home to his former slaves, who are also Jewish, and who observe Passover the same week in which Lincoln is assassinated — earned encouraging reviews following its Feb. 1 Off-Broadway opening. Reviewers called the story arresting in its power and its strangeness. As a result, MTC announced a third extension that will take the three-character drama to April 10. The play is also, arguably, the best luck director Doug Hughes has had with a new play since Doubt, which also began at MTC's Off-Broadway space.

Classic Stage Company provided another Off-Broadway score with its new rendition of Three Sisters, the latest entry in what has become the theatre's running engagement with Chekhov over the last few years. As with Uncle Vanya a couple seasons ago, this production was directed by Austin Pendleton and stars Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard. Unlike Uncle Vanya, which got mixed reviews, Three Sisters got raves from critics, who called it sensitive, richly textured, intimate and splendidly acted. The production had already been extended even before reviews came out.

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Sanaa Lathan

In more Off-Broadway news, Sanaa Lathan, a Tony Award nominee for the 2004 revival of A Raisin in the Sun, will play the title character in the world premiere of Lynn Nottage's By the Way, Meet Vera Stark, for Second Stage Off-Broadway. The play would appear to be more in the versatile author's knockabout Fabulation mode than in her serious Ruined vein. Taking a cue from screwball film comedies of the 1930s, the play introduces us to an African-American maid with showbiz aspirations in the Golden Age of Hollywood. Jo Bonney directs.

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On Broadway, meanwhile, Victoria Clark will don a habit in the new Broadway musical Sister Act, it was annnounced this week. The Light in the Piazza star has been cast as Mother Superior in the new disco musical.

This will be Clark's first Broadway show since winning the Tony Award, and solidifying her star status, in Piazza five years ago. And let's just say that the project couldn't be more different.

Also announced to appear are Fred Applegate, Sarah Bolt, John Treacy Egan, Demond Green, Chester Gregory, Kingsley Leggs, Marla Mindelle, Audrie Neenan and Caesar Samayoa.

As previously reported, Patina Miller, who earned an Olivier Award nomination for originating the role of Deloris Van Cartier in the London production, will repeat her work on Broadway. The Alan Menken and Glenn Slater musical will begin previews March 24 at the Broadway Theatre and will officially open April 20 under the direction of Jerry Zaks.

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Heidi Blickenstaff

Elsewhere, one of the most critically abused of Broadway musicals, The Addams Family, will on March 8 get a new set of ghouls. Joining Roger Rees, who has the unenviable task of filling the departing Nathan Lane's shoes as family patriarch Gomez, will be Heidi Blickenstaff, Adam Grupper, Brad Oscar, Rachel Potter and Jesse Swenson. Bebe Neuwirth continues as Morticia. Oscar, who here honors his longtime habit of working in Lane projects, will do a dance with the moon as Uncle Fester.

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Producers have tried all-Black casts with the works of many of America's top playwrights, including Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. The name of Horton Foote, however, has rarely, if ever, come up as a possible match with such casting. Yet, when one thinks of it even for a minute, it's not such a far-fetched idea. Foote's world is a largely white one, yes. And plays are set in Texas, sure, where race relations are hardly harmonious. But they are primarily family dramas of quietly studied turbulence. And family trauma knows no color.

The Cleveland Playhouse is currently opening up the possibilities of future Foote revivals with its production of The Trip to Bountiful, featuring an African-American cast. It began performances Feb. 4 in the Drury Theatre.

Hallie Foote, the daughter of the heralded playwright, authorized the production, which is staged by Timothy Douglas. Veteran actress Lizan Mitchell leads the cast as widow Carrie Watts, with Jessica Frances Dukes as Thelma, Chinai J. Hardy as Jessie Mae Watts, Doug Brown as Roy, Howard V. Overshown as Ludie Watts and Lawrence Redmond as the Sheriff.

"Because I remain committed to the playwright's original intent," said Douglas, "all of the augmented socially-specific examples will only be communicated by way of the stage picture, coupled with the audiences' individual and collective knowledge of race relations. I hope this production will impart powerful new meanings in a unique Trip to Bountiful."

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If you want to make sure something doesn't get done, put the matter before a committee.

Members of the New York Drama Critics' Circle assembled the evening of Jan. 31 to discuss whether critics should review the forever-in-previews Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark prior to its official opening March 15. The $65 million musical, which began previews in November 2010, has postponed its opening several times, leading several critics to question whether the newest opening date should be respected.

Score one for Spidey. In his Time Out blog, New York Drama Critics' Circle president Adam Feldman said no consensus was reached in this discussion.

"Meetings are confidential," he wrote, "so I can only say that the discussion was spirited but that we did not resolve to stick to any specific course of action as a group on the question of when to review the show, whose preview period has been extended multiple times. We remain, in the end, a loose affiliation of highly opinionated individuals — some of whom have already staked out public positions on the issues in question — with strongly held personal beliefs as well as differing editorial pressures beyond our control. As appealing as the notion might have been that we could somehow band together under a common philosophy, we remain fundamentally resistant to collective action."

Good thing they're a Circle, and not a union.

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