PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, March 7-13: The Play Engine

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, March 7-13: The Play Engine What would us theatre newshounds do without David Mamet?
David Mamet
David Mamet Photo by Aubrey Reuben

He inspires star-laden Broadways revivals such as the recent productions of Glengarry Glen Ross (Tony Award winner; money-maker) and American Buffalo (not so lucky). He delivers topical plays about presidential politics during elections years (November), and ones that star Nathan Lane to boot. Heck, the revival of his Hollywood satire Speed-the-Plow handed the theatre press the story of the year when star Jeremy Piven got mercury poisoning so bad he had no choice but to hop in a cab and head straight to JFK.

The tireless, newly-minted-neo-con scribe is now back again, with yet another new play, the super-duper, tantalizingly topical title of which is Race. It will make its Broadway premiere Nov. 20 at a theatre to be announced and will officially open Dec. 10. Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel and Steve Traxler will produce. Richards revealed little about the plot of the play, saying only, "I think the title speaks for itself." Since I've never heard of Mamet being a man to do a lot of hanging around down at the track, I'm going to assume that the drama has something to do with racial relations in this country of ours, which has just made history by electing its first African-American President. I could be wrong, of course. After all, the cheeky Mamet called his recent courtroom farce by the name of Romance.

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33 Variations, writer-director Moisés Kaufman's new music-infused play that lured Jane Fonda back to Broadway, opened March 9 at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre and inspired at least 33 critical reactions. Most critics were more impressed with Fonda — or, rather, the fact that Fonda was actually there, on stage, after 40-some years — than they were with Kaufman's play, which they found a somewhat wooden, pseudo-serious effort whose reach exceeded its grasp. Others found enough to engage them in the tale of a musicologist chasing a scholarly mystery, while her own mortality dogs her every step.

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Norbert Leo Butz and Aaron Tveit
photo by Aubrey Reuben

Complete casting was announced for the new Scott Wittman-Marc Shaiman-Terrence McNally musical Catch Me If You Can, which will make its world premiere this summer at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre. The cast will be headed by Norbert Leo Butz as FBI Fraud Agent Carl Hanratty, Aaron Tveit as Frank, Tom Wopat as Frank Sr., Kerry Butler as Brenda, Linda Hart as Carol, Rachel deBenedet as Paula and Nick Wyman as Roger.

Directed by Jack O'Brien with choreography by Jerry Mitchell, the new musical based on the DreamWorks film of the same name and the autobiography by Frank Abagnale Jr. and Stan Redding will play the Seattle venue July 23-Aug. 16.

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Broadway dodged a bullet in Albany this week.

New York Governor David Paterson struck a proposed tax on Broadway theatre tickets from his 2009-10 state budget proposal on March 11. The theatre industry collectively exhaled.

Producers, theatre owners and others had lobbied recently for the elimination of the possible tax. They said the tax would have added as much as eight percent to the admission price of Broadway plays and musicals. Higher ticket prices, industry people reasoned, would have discouraged ticket sales, closed shows prematurely and impacted other businesses and tourism in New York City.

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Hartford Stage seems to have the hit of its history in its production of To Kill a Mockingbird, starring Matthew Modine. The play, based on the Harper Lee classic, has been extended through April 12.

Mockingbird began its run Feb. 19 and was slated to close April 4. Under the direction of Hartford Stage artistic director Michael Wilson, Mockingbird has broken box-office records, banking the largest advance sale of any show at Hartford Stage and becoming the best-selling show in the history of the Connecticut theatre company.

I guess the appeal of a good, solid story never dulls.

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Finally, from our Elizabethan Desk, there is new news on the Bard.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust unveiled a newly discovered portrait painting that is "almost certainly the only authentic image of Shakespeare made from life."

So, where was this revelatory portrait hiding? In the home of some Irishmen, that's where. The picture has descended for centuries in the same family, the Cobbes. In 2006 Alec Cobbe visited the National Portrait Gallery exhibition "Searching for Shakespeare," where he saw a painting that now hangs in the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC. "It had been accepted as a life portrait of Shakespeare until some 70 years ago, but fell from grace when it was found to have been altered," according to the Trust. "Mr. Cobbe immediately realized that this was a copy of the painting in his family collection."

The Cobbe portrait will go on public exhibition at The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon starting April 23, Shakespeare's birthday.

If Shakespeare were alive, he would certainly be pleased with the new find. For the painting shows a younger, leaner, more hirsute William Shakespeare than that balding Billy we've come to know and revere. Can it be that the greatest playwright the world has ever known was not only a genius, but handsome, too?

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