PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Oct. 1-7: Broadway Playwrights, Past and Present

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Oct. 1-7: Broadway Playwrights, Past and Present Playwright August Wilson died on Oct. 2 at the age of 60.
August Wilson
August Wilson Photo by Aubrey Reuben

This column addressed his importance as a writer when the man first announced in late August that he was suffering from inoperable liver cancer, and those sentiments were echoed by nearly every publication of note this week, as critics and theatre people acknowledged the enormity of the loss. A man of rare seriousness and talent, a writer possessed of an almost unexampled grand ambition, and, in the short period since the death of Arthur Miller, very possibly America's most important playwright. He was all of these, and the tributes to him acknowledged it. So did the leaders of Jujamcyn Theatres, who will rename the Virginia Theatre after Wilson on Oct. 16—a welcome move in these times when a playwright or composer's name is the last thing to adorn a theatre. The next step would be to regularly fill that house with new plays by living playwrights.

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Broadway launched its fall season in a way that honored the memory of Wilson, in that the show in question was a original play by a leading America playwright: A Naked Girl on the Appian Way by Richard Greenberg, which opened Oct. 6 at the American Airlines Theatre. A happy reception would have crowned the event in an appropriate fashion. Alas, the comedy became probably Greenberg's worst-reviewed effort in years, though critics welcomed Jill Clayburgh back to Broadway. The playwright and director, Doug Hughes, will team again for A House in Town in the spring.

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Appian Way's opening notwithstanding, the Broadway shows most regularly talked up this week were two productions which merely began previews. One was The Odd Couple, which stars The Rainmakers of the Rialto, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. Reports on what sort of comic wizardry was going down at the Brooks Atkinson appeared the day after the first show. That is not to say that anyone is overly concerned with how good the show is. It just is, an unassailable phenomenon, like the arrival of the next Harry Potter book. To rail about the deservedness of its predetermined success is strictly for the windmill-tilting set. People do seem interested, however—indeed, very interested—in whether the new Sweeney Todd is an artistic triumph or not. The reason is the high concept of director John Doyle. The small cast acts, sings and plays all the instruments—indeed, has memorized the score! Can such a thing be carried off? And if carried off, will it succeed as the show Stephen Sondheim wrote, or simply as a tantalizingly singular theatrical experiment? These are among the questions that abound, and they are keeping busy tongues that otherwise have found little to wag about this season.

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A Woman of Will, the new Off-Broadway musical by and starring Amanda McBroom, was so critically trounced upon opening, that it almost immediately announced a closing date of Oct. 9. Also bowing in the face of unfavorable reviews were Dr. Sex, the Kinsey musical, which will close on the same date, and In the Wings, the Stewart Lane comedy, exiting Oct. 16.

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Is the rising tide of fundamentalist Christianity that has flooded America since the election of George W. Bush beginning to wash ashore here in New York's theatreland? A couple of new productions Off-Broadway are enough to make one wonder. Working Man's Clothes Productions plans to present what they call a new "miracle play"—the academic term applied to the often-authorless, Bible-based plays from the Medieval era. The play is called To Nineveh and was written by Bekah Brunstetter. The plot involves Rebekah and Isaac, parents to two grown sons, Jacob and Esau—names familiar to anyone with a copy of the Good Book. It will begin on Oct. 14, the same start date as The Ark, a new musical about, yes, that ark. Lyricist-librettist composer Michael McLean has written music and lyrics for more than 20 inspirational and Christian pop albums. He and fellow lyricist librettist Kevin Kelly, a professor in the Department of Communications at Brigham Young University, have approached the topic in a straightforward, earnest way. There are, however, performances on Sunday.

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