PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Oct. 15-21: Still Searching

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Oct. 15-21: Still Searching Still no luck on the Rialto, as Broadway continues to search behind every theatre curtain for its first solid critical hit of the new season. It didn't find it in Absurd Person Singular, which opened Oct. 18 at Manhattan Theatre Club's Biltmore Theatre, or In My Life, the one-of-a-kind musical that was unleashed on the public on Oct. 20.
Alan Ruck in Absurd Person Singular.
Alan Ruck in Absurd Person Singular. Photo by Joan Marcus

Alan Ayckbourn's Absurd Person Singular, about three different couples who commingle on three different Christmases, was getting its first Broadway revival since it debuted in the mid-'70s. It was a hit back then. This production, directed by John Tillinger, however, was not as popular with the critics, who thought some essential rhythms and tonal qualities were not completely captured. (The production is, incidentally, the first Ayckbourn to hit Broadway since 1992's A Small Family Business, which was also the work of Manhattan Theatre Club.)

As for In the Life—well, it's fair to say that while critics did not have high hopes, they did expect to undergo a singular experience. And that they did, in spades. The $7.2 million show in question is by Broadway neophyte Joseph Brooks, who wrote its book, music and lyrics, directed and produced it. Not even Orson Welles wore so many hats on one outing. Brooks is a successful jingle writer and author of the song "You Light Up My Life," a number which lives a double life as one of the most successful ditties in human history and a song that inspires a great many usually even-tempered people to murderous hatred.

If Brooks' jack-of-all-trades act provoked interest, the show's plot secured curiosity for good. The hero has Tourette Syndrome. The heroine has an obsessive compulsive disorder. There are several dead characters, as well as an androgynous angel-like fellow named Winston, who does a dance with a skeleton. God shows up in a baseball cap. The Heavenly folk sing jingles extolling Dr. Pepper and Volkswagen. Almost makes you want to buy a ticket, huh? Well, the reviews weren't good, though they did communicate the idea that the reviewers were nonetheless fascinated.

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Broadway will get plenty more chances to strike gold this season. Two more opportunities presented themselves this week alone. Alan Bennett's Olivier Award-winning The History Boys settled on the Broadhurst Theatre as its future home, and will begin previews on Broadway April 14, 2006. The play — about a British boys' school — is directed by Nicholas Hytner. Also, the work of Clifford Odets' decade-long exile from Broadway will end with a spring mounting of Awake and Sing!, produced by Lincoln Center Theatre and directed by The Light in the Piazza's Barlett Sher. Previews will begin March 23 at the Belasco Theatre. Opening is April 17. The timing is apt: 2006 is Odets' centennial.

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Off-Broadway was luckily this week. Second Stage achieved a hit with its revival of Charles Fuller's racially charged, all-male military murder mystery A Soldier’s Play. The critics applauded the taut work of director Jo Bonney and her top drawer cast, which included Taye Diggs, Anthony Mackie, Steven Pasquale and James McDaniel. The show soon extended an extra two weeks.

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Finally, Broadway's Doubt found its new Sister Aloysius, and she'll be quite a change from Cherry Jones, the accomplished American actress who created the role of the formidable and ruthlessly certain nun. She's older, she's English, she's Eileen Atkins. Still, anyone who's seen Atkins in Prin, Indiscretions and Retreat From Moscow, to name a few of her New York appearances, knows how intimidating a lady she can be. They better find a steely Father Flynn to face her.

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