PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 8-14: La MaMa's Matron; Spider-Man Changes Opening; Baitz, Wilde Praised

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 8-14: La MaMa's Matron; Spider-Man Changes Opening; Baitz, Wilde Praised It's a new year, so Spider-Man has a new opening date: March 15.

Patrick Page in Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark
Patrick Page in Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark Photo by Jacob Cohl

Did anyone mention to the producers that that's the Ides of March?

Anyway, the problem-plagued multi-million musical got an unexpected booster this week when conservative Fox News commentator (are there any liberal Fox News commentators?) Glenn Beck unexpectedly decided to champion the show as the Phantom of the Opera of the 21st century, and "better than Wicked." He encouraged theatregoers to give a kidney in order to get a ticket. We are not making this up.

He also mocked the New York Elite, i.e. the dramatic critics corps, decrying their supposedly fuddy-duddy taste (they hate rock music) and mocking them by putting on an outrageous French accent. Thus he followed media figures like Walter Winchell, Liz Smith and Michael Musto into becoming a Theatre Critic Without Portfolio. It's a well-trod path. 

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Every living producer in New York had a good long laugh (and then a few days of peace) upon learning this week that All That Chat — the popular internet message board on which anonymous theatre mavens and practitioners share rants, praise, speculation, news, questions and criticism on all things theatrical — was hacked in recent days. For the first time in years, unlicensed critics couldn't weigh in, in seven short paragraphs or more, about what they didn't like about the first preview of the out-of-town tryout of every Broadway-bound musical.

Ann Miner, an administrator of the parent site, TalkinBroadway.com, said other parts of the site were not affected (are there other parts of the site?), but All That Chat has been shut down in recent days to allow administrators to fix the kinks caused by the hacking. (At press time, there hadn't been a post since Jan. 11.) The hacker has not been identified, and there were many observers who commented on the irony and poetic justice of a message board full of anonymous commentators being taken down by an anonymous person.

Readers reported that when they clicked on message threads on the ATC board in recent days, viruses or virus alerts entered their computers.

Miner told Playbill.com, "The virus thing is part of what the hacker did. Anyone with an up to date anti-virus program did not receive the virus, though their anti-virus program would have popped up with an alert. We are advising anyone who visited ATC since Sunday [Jan. 9] to scan their computer with an anti-virus program."

The real question, though, is why people haven't gotten a virus alert when they've entered the message board before this.

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Brian Bedford in The Importance of Being Earnest
photo by Joan Marcus

The new Broadway production of The Importance of Being Earnest, opened Jan. 13 at the American Airlines Theatre. And, as might be expected, reviews focused the directing and star turn of Brian Bedford, who played the imperious British matron Lady Augusta Bracknell. And they were pleased with what they saw, saying Bedford was peerless, beautifully playing the role as opposed to camping it up, and that the rest of the precise production was almost up to his level.

The other big opening of the week was the arrival of Other Desert Cities at Lincoln Center Center. Jon Robin Baitz, the author, has been touted as one of America's best playwrights for a good two decades, but with an asterisk, as his works are never quite praised without qualifications, and no one play has really broken out from the pack. But this time he got a review from the Times that writers dream of. The paper called Cities "his most fully realized play to date," and "the most richly enjoyable new play for grown-ups that New York has known in many a season." This is what they call a money review, the sort of notice that sends not-for-profit plays into commercial productions. Other critics concurred, saying the playwright had created five richly detailed characters in the family drama, and weighed the emotional and moral stakes evenly between them. The cast, too — Stacy Keach, Stockard Channing, Elizabeth Marvel, Linda Lavin, Thomas Sadoski — came in for copious praise.

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Carey Mulligan

Atlantic Theater Companys Off-Broadway spring season will have a touch of Swedish gloom in it. Oscar nominee Carey Mulligan will star in Through a Glass Darkly, Jenny Worton's stage adaptation of the Oscar-winning Ingmar Bergman film. Performances begin May 13.

The production replaces Ethan Coen's new work, Four Pickups, which will appear in an upcoming season. David Leveaux will direct Mulligan as Karin, the troubled woman at the center of the family drama.

Broadway first noticed Mulligan in Broadway's most recent The Seagull, in which she played Nina. Since then she's become a film star, earning Academy Award and Golden Globe Award nominations for the film "An Education."

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When you consider the New York figures who helped shape the direction the American theatre in second half of the 20th century, a handful of names immediately rise to the top. Joe Papp, founder of the Public Theater. Ted Mann and Jose Quintero at Circle in the Square. And Ellen Stewart, the founder of La MaMa E.T.C., who died this week at the age of 91. Unlike the first three mentioned, who helped spearhead the Off-Broadway movement, Stewart made up one of the four pillars of the Off-Off-Broadway world that emerged in the early 1960s as a sort of combined solution and rebuke to the ossifying commerciality and artistic rigidity of Broadway and Off-Broadway. (The other three were Caffe Cino, Theatre Genesis and Judson Poet's Theatre.) Stewart set up shop wherever she could, first in the basement of her East Village clothing boutique, and then at a succession of unlikely spaces, always one step ahead of the fire inspector, before finally settling into her complex of theatres on E. 4th Street. She devoted herself to giving writers a place where they could hear their voice and cut their teeth. And such writers. She helped make sure the theatre was a home for Sam Shepard, Lanford Wilson, Adrienne Kennedy, Harvey Fierstein, Leonard Melfi and Jean Claude Van Itallie. Directors, actors, choreographers, designers, performance artists and all-around visionaries found a haven there, too, and a motherly figure in Ms. Stewart, who nurtured her enterprise and its artists like children. It wasn't called La MaMa for nothing.

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