PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Sept. 29-Oct. 5: House of Debuts

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Sept. 29-Oct. 5: House of Debuts The Biltmore Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club's Broadway outlet, has become useful over the past few seasons in one particularly laudatory way: It is providing American playwrights with their Broadway debuts.
Alison Pill and Katie Finneran star in Mauritius.
Alison Pill and Katie Finneran star in Mauritius. Photo by Joan Marcus

Most American dramatists live out their careers Off-Broadway and in the regions; Broadway producers do not consider them commercial prospects, favoring instead their English counterparts. MTC, being a nonprofit, has had the ability to counter this trend since it reopened the Biltmore as its own in 2003. The house gave Regina Taylor her Broadway bow with Drowning Crow, and did the same service for David Lindsay-Abaire with Rabbit Hole.

On Oct. 4, it was Theresa Rebeck's turn. A dozen or more plays behind her, not to mention 15 years of working in the theatre's trenches, Rebeck's latest, Mauritius, was given the Broadway treatment. Doug Hughes directed the thriller about rare stamps and misplaced values with a cast that included Alison Pill, Katie Finneran, F. Murray Abraham, Dylan Baker and Bobby Canavale.

Critics, on the whole, were amused. Some mentioned the play's similarity to David Mamet's American Buffalo, and carped a bit about its formulaic quality. But almost every reviewer allowed that the piece was well-directed, well-acted and was very entertaining. Entertainment is a quality that has become undervalued by the critics of recent times. At one time, not long ago, an evening of well-executed entertainment was what 90 percent of Broadway audiences were looking for when choosing a show. Still seems like a decent criterion to me.

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Rebeck is the only living American female to have a new play on Broadway this season. Last year's token girl was Joan Didion, who brought her adaptation of her own memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, to Broadway, with Vanessa Redgrave as its star. The play fared well, and now it will play Redgrave's homeland, England. National Theatre artistic director Nicholas Hytner confirmed this week that Redgrave will reprise her Tony-nominated solo performance in the work. There are no dates currently set for the production, which is directed by British dramatist David Hare, but speaking at a press briefing for the National's annual report, Hytner said the play will arrive in the spring.

The production's visit should be an interesting one for the British. It's not often that they meet an American with a more reserved demeanor and drier sense of humor than their own.

Hytner also used the press event to announce that the National will next year stage a new "very big play" by Hare, to be directed by Howard Davies.

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The rumors were right. Academy Award winners Morgan Freeman and Frances McDormand, as well as stage and screen star Peter Gallagher, will head the cast of the Broadway revival of The Country Girl, which will be directed by Mike Nichols.

The revival of the Clifford Odets drama, according to a press statement, will open in April 2008 at a Shubert Theatre to be announced.

Freeman will star as the down-on-his-luck performer trying to make a comeback with McDormand as his loyal wife and Gallagher as a hotshot director. Neither Freeman nor McDormand has been seen on Broadway in nearly 20 years.

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Bill Camp keeps getting busier. The actor is currently bathing in ketchup and chocolate sauce as the star starring of New York Theater Workshop's provocative Ivo van Hove production of The Misanthrope, and will stay at that theatre later this fall for Beckett Shorts.

This week, his next gig was announced. He will be the title owner of Sarah Ruhl's Dead Man's Cell Phone for Playwrights Horizons in 2008, the company announced. He joins Mary-Louise Parker. How many lines a dead man has, I can't say.

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Finally, the theatre lost one of its most dependably fine artists this week. Actor George Grizzard died on Oct. 2, leaving behind him a wealth of great performances. The original Nick from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and a Tony-winner for A Delicate Balance, Grizzard was known for his way with an Edward Albee part, and for the subtley and effortless ease of his performances. On stage, he was a figure of quiet dignity, wit and unpretentiousness. He spoke his lines as simply as one might answer a request for the time. Yet, each line breathed with human experience and was wreathed in the crackling warmth of his drawling, slightly Southern cadences. (He was born in North Carolina.) Why such a humane, humble actor did so well with Albee's brittle, compromised characters is hard to say. Maybe it's because he seemed to care for them more than the playwright did. Albee provided his every creation with some nice language. Grizzard provided the heart.

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