PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Nov. 26-Dec. 2: Purple Prose

ICYMI   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Nov. 26-Dec. 2: Purple Prose
 
They weren't exactly rosey. But neither were they black. No, the reviews for the big new, Oprah Winfrey-approved musical version of Alice Walker's The Color Purple were somewhere in the middle, which means the show has a fighting chance. And when you've got a fighter like Oprah in your corner (she even mended fences with David Letterman in order to appear on his show in support of the production), an eventual technical knockout is an admitted possibility.
LaChanze in The Color Purple.
LaChanze in The Color Purple. Photo by Joan Marcus

The New Group's Abigail's Party, which opened the same night as The Color Purple, doesn't have Oprah, but it did get the reviews. Critics have yet to not appreciate a collaboration between British playwright Mike Leigh and Yankee director Scott Elliott, and this revival of the 1977 play was no exception. The pitch dark treatise on bad human behavior has the right star in Jennifer Jason Leigh, a screen expert in the matter of inflicting emotional (and sometimes physical) pain on self and others.

The New Group may now have the best critical batting average of any nonprofit theatre in New York. Abigail's Party follows such reviewer's favorites as Aunt Dan and Lemon, Hurlyburly and Avenue Q.

Meanwhile, the Playwrights Horizons production of Christopher Durang's new dark comedy, Miss Witherspoon, didn't get the best reviews the perennial critics' favorite has ever won, but they were good enough to warrant a two-week extension. Durang could arguably thank his leading lady for the bonus weeks. Kristine Nielsen, who previously graced Durang's Betty's Summer Vacation, was lavishly praised by all and sundry as giving a tour de force performance as the title character, a cranky dead woman whom heaven is determined to reincarnate whether she likes it or not.

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The Atlantic Theater Company will have the first new Martin McDonagh production in New York following the critical and commercial success of The Pillowman. The Lieutenant of Inishmore, an earlier work by the British playwright, will be directed by Wilson Milam and star Brian d'Arcy James and David Wilmot. McDonagh's patented mix of black humor and horrific violence will again be on display. The plot concerns a heartless terrorist who, it is thought, will react badly when he discovers his pet kitty has been offed. The run begins Feb. 8, 2006. ***

The Off-Broadway Signature Theatre Company season dedicated to the late August Wilson is on again. It was announced Nov. 30 that, after further discussion with the August Wilson Estate, the company will reinstate its plans to present Wilson's works in 2006 as part of its 15th Anniversary line-up. The news came less than a month after the whole thing was abruptly called off. Three plays from Wilson's 10-play cycle will be mounted: Seven Guitars, Two Trains Running and King Hedley II. The last was seen in New York little more than four years ago.

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Julia Roberts finally has some company. The identities of her Three Days of Rain co-stars were something of an open secret, but on Nov. 28 they were officially announced: Paul Rudd will play Roberts' brother, and Bradley Cooper will play the siblings' childhood friend. The production, directed by Joe Mantello, will begin previews on March 28, 2006, at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre and will have its official press opening on April 19. The limited 12-week engagement will run through June 18.

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They loved her with her clothes off in The Graduate. Now London will get a chance to appreciate the subtler talents of Kathleen Turner, when the recent Broadway production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf opens at the Apollo Jan. 31, 2006, with previews from Jan. 20. (That is, if the word "subtler" can be applied to her ferocious, Tony-nominated performance as boozing, brawling Martha.) Her Tony-winning mate, Bill Irwin, will join her again, as will the Nick and Honey or David Harbour and Mireille Enos.

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