PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Oct. 18-24: Differing Opinions on Disgraced and Hand to God Will Bow on Broadway

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Oct. 18-24: Differing Opinions on Disgraced and Hand to God Will Bow on Broadway
 
The big opening of the week was the Broadway debut of Ayad Akhtar's Pulitzer Prize-winning play Disgraced, which officially opened on Broadway Oct. 23 at the Lyceum Theatre.

Josh Radnor and Gretchen Mol
Josh Radnor and Gretchen Mol Photo by Joan Marcus

Disgraced premiered in January 2012 at Chicago’s American Theatre Company before playing a fall run at at the Claire Tow Theater as part of Lincoln Center Theater's new works initiative, LCT3. Kimberly Senior, who staged the Chicago premiere of the play, also directed Off-Broadway. It had its London premiere last spring at the Bush Theatre. So Broadway was the praised work's final major stop.

The cast was made up of a mix of those shows, and some new faces. It included original London cast member Hari Dhillon and original LCT3 cast member Karen Pittman, alongside Gretchen Mol, Josh Radnor and London cast member Danny Ashok.

The play tells the the story of a successful Muslim-American lawyer and his wife, an artist influenced by Islamic imagery, who live comfortable and successful life on New York’s Upper East Side. When a co-worker and her husband come to dinner, polite table conversation goes horribly awry.

The Times said the play "has come roaring back to life on Broadway in a first-rate production directed by Kimberly Senior that features an almost entirely new cast. In the years since it was first produced here, the play's exploration of the conflicts between modern culture and Islamic faith...have become ever more pertinent."

"Few playwrights are examining what Akhtar does," said AP, "certainly not with his insightfulness, and his play is breathtaking — and not a little uncomfortable — to watch. In the best of ways."

Time Out New York thought "this is a superior production to the one that opened at Lincoln Center in 2012." The review continued, "Akhtar may not have revolutionary things to say about poorly repressed animosities between East and West, but he says them eloquently and passionately."

Adam Chanler-Berat
Adam Chanler-Berat Photo by Joan Marcus

And Newsday said, "The play remains a smart and provocative work of unusual daring, one that should be seen by anyone who cares about serious theater and the knotted tangles of tribal beliefs that lurk under civilized layers of educated, liberal professionals."

Not all the reviews were as admiring. The Daily News said is was "awash in the same pros and cons of its 2012 Off-Broadway run. On the plus side, the play is lean and timely... On the downside, conveniences stack up." And the Post said "the bigger stage hasn't been kind to the show. Because the play seems like a PowerPoint lecture about current hot topics — terrorism, Islam, Jews, religion, art — it requires excellent acting. Pity the performances here are wildly uneven, and a couple of them are downright bad."

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Also opening this week was the world premiere of the new musical The Fortress of Solitude at The Public Theater. Conceived and directed by Daniel Aukin, the musical has a book by Itamar Moses and music and lyrics by Michael Friedman and is based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Jonathan Lethem about a supernatural coming-of-age story in 1970s Brooklyn.

Those who had problems with the show focused on its lack of focus.

"The production as a whole feels hazy," said the New York Times, "and it seldom acquires the sweeping momentum that a show about time's tidal pull demands."

"Like the novel, the musical juggles many plotlines," wrote The Daily News. "But author Itamar Moses, a fine playwright, and director Daniel Aukin, who conceived this show, can't find a focus. The story sprawls in unsatisfying fashion."

Steven Boyer
Steven Boyer Photo by Joan Marcus

Variety liked the show better, saying "the theme of this blood-pumping, heart-thumping show — the indestructible links that bind us to the old neighborhood — is timeless… Michael Friedman follows this friendship in a soaring score that keeps reinventing itself to reflect the turbulent social forces that change neighborhoods — and friends — beyond all recognition. Is there an audience for this extraordinary show? Yes. Is there a Broadway audience? Maybe not."

Newsday, too, was an advocate: "Every so often, but not often enough, we stumble on a new musical that fills a need we didn't even know we had. The Fortress of Solitude, despite the loneliness of the title, is an exuberant, altogether engrossing and moving socio-pop musical that may remind theatergoers of the way they felt when they first saw Rent and In the Heights."

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There was a fresh batch of Broadway news this week.

Hand to God, the comedy starring Steven Boyer as a boy with a foul-mouthed hand puppet, may have the blessing of God, because it keeps moving on up the theatre ladder. The show, which began Off-Off-Broadway and then moved Off-Broadway earlier this year, will open on Broadway April 7, 2015, at the Booth Theatre — marking the Broadway debut of playwright Robert Askins.

Hand to God will again be directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel and will feature the complete cast of the 2014 MCC Theater production: Geneva Carr as Margery, Marc Kudisch, Sarah Stiles and Michael Oberholtzer.

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Movie star Keira Knightley will make her Broadway debut in Helen Edmundson's new adaptation of Thérèse Raquin, based upon the novel by Émile Zola, Roundabout Theatre Company announced.

The first production of Roundabout's 50th anniversary season (50? I suddenly feel old), will begin previews Oct. 1, 2015. Evan Cabnet will direct the tale of marital dissatisfaction, adultery, murder and guilt.

Andrea Martin
Andrea Martin Photo by Monica Simoes

The story has inspired many a film and play, including a 1945 Broadway adaptation starring Eva Le Gallienne, 1997 Off-Broadway version starring Elizabeth Marvel and the musical Thou Shalt Not.

Knightley has stage experience. She made her West End theatrical debut in Martin Crimp's translation of Molière's comedy The Misanthrope. In January 2011, she returned to the Comedy Theatre and starred in Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour.

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Andrea Martin, she of the two Tonys and many nominations, will return to Broadway in a new Broadway production of the award-winning comedy Noises Off, starring as Dotty. The Michael Frayn comedy will begin performances Dec. 17, also as a part of the Roundabout Theatre Company's 50th anniversary.

Noises Off premiered on Broadway in 1983 and was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play. The original production ran over 550 performances. It was last revived on Broadway in 2001.

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Finally, The Shubert Organization, which owns and operates 17 Broadway theatres, has signed a three-year development/production deal with producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, the duo who are best known for their musical films ("Chicago") and producing awards shows like the Oscars.

The agreement will place the Shuberts with Zadan and Meron in partnership in the development and production of original plays and musicals, as well as revivals.

Zadan and Meron's Broadway credits to date include the recent revivals of Promises, Promises and How to Succeed….

The Shubert Organization has been a leading force in producing on Broadway for many years. In the current season alone, they are backing This Is Our Youth, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Disgraced.

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