PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Oct. 4-10: A Look Back

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Oct. 4-10: A Look Back Broadway revisited its childhood this week, in two different ways, through two very different Broadway openings.
13's Graham Phillips and Man for All Seasons' Frank Langella
13's Graham Phillips and Man for All Seasons' Frank Langella Photo by Joan Marcus

With the Roundabout Theatre Company revival of Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons, the largely middle-aged New York critical corps revisited a play that they perhaps last saw when they were teenagers. And with 13, the new middle school-set musical with songs by Jason Robert Brown, and performances by actors and musicians who are not yet old enough to drive, those same critics were forced to view something that may have very well resembled their childhood. (Who's with me in betting that today's drama critics were probably not the most popular kids in school back in their teen years?)

Well, it appears a few of those critics didn't want to be transported back to junior high. Major reviewers, including Ben Brantley at the Times, questioned whether 13, whatever its merits, would appeal to anyone over 18. Others who liked the show more chose to focus on the tuneful score, and energetic, likable performances by the young cast and band.

A Man for All Seasons did better with the reviewers, though, for the most part, their praise was directly targeted at Broadway stalwart Frank Langella, the three-time Tony-winner who is well known to give pleasure whenever he strides the stage. He played the righteous Sir Thomas More, whose stand against King Henry VIII won his a place in history and on Henry's gallows. Some critics, however, thought the play itself a bit of a one-sided bore. Guess Speaking Truth to Power isn't as gripping as it was back in the '60s. Pity. (Nevertheless, a week was added to the run, Roundabout announced this week.)

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A few seasons ago, Sam Mendes directed alternating productions of Uncle Vanya and Twelfth Night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. They were hot tickets and lavishly lauded. Well, Mendes is a man who sees when something works, so he's at it again. He will return to BAM with a new Chekhov-and-Bard combo: The Cherry Orchard and The Winter's Tale. The shows are a collaboration of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, The Old Vic and Neal Street Productions. Mendes has asked back one of the stars of his previous double-header: London's chubby little award-collector Simon Russell Beale will be Lopakhin in The Cherry Orchard and Leontes in The Winter's Tale. Also in the cast are Sinead Cusack as Madame Ranevskaya and Paulina and Rebecca Hall as Varya and Hermione, as well as Richard Easton as Firs and Old Shepherd/Time, Josh Hamilton as Yasha and Polixenes, and Ethan Hawke as Trofimov and Autolycus. The latter two Coast of Utopia refugees can be chalked up to the fact that Tom Stoppard has penned the new adaptation of Orchard.

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The upcoming Broadway revival of Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit is looking pretty tasty. Rupert Everett, the film actor known for his work in "My Best Friend's Wedding," will make his Broadway debut alongside Christine Ebersole. Opening is scheduled for Feb. 26, 2009.

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Marin Ireland, Reed Birney and Louis Cancelmi starred in the New York premiere of Blasted, the notorious play by the later English playwright Sarah Kane. The work, with scenes of brutal rape and cannibalism, was met with condemnation upon its 1995 London premiere. Playwrights Harold Pinter, Caryl Churchill and Martin Crimp all came to the defense of Kane, who committed suicide in 1999 after writing a few more equally hard-hitting plays.

Critics found the Soho Rep production exemplary, convincingly enacted, difficult to watch and impossible to ignore. If the season didn't have a cause célèbre yet, it has one now.

Marin Ireland and Reed Birney in <i>Blasted</i>
Marin Ireland and Reed Birney in Blasted Photo by Simon Kane
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