When a Hollywood studio releases a hit movie, it's expected that a dozen movies on the same theme will soon follow and try to cash in on some kind of "trend." Theatre is a much more heart-driven, unpredictable creature, yet sometimes -- usually by coincidence -- amazing parallels occur between one show and another.
The 1996-97 season in New York has proved especially prone to doppelgangers. Here are a few:
God's Heart and The Green Heart: Nothing in common beyond the titles. The first is Craig Lucas' new Off-Broadway romantic drama, the second is a musical by Charles Busch and Rusty Magee at Manhattan Theatre Club.
How I Learned To Drive and Good As New: Both comedy/dramas have at their center an older relative teaching a pretty young woman to drive. In the Paula Vogel play, Uncle Peck (David Morse) becomes sexually involved with his niece, Li'l Bit (Mary Louise Parker). In the Peter Hedges play, there's an unspoken undercurrent between father and daughter.
Barrymore and Jack: A Night On The Town: Okay, this is cheating, since Jack played on Broadway last season, but what are the coincidences of getting two one-man shows about John Barrymore on Broadway within months of each other? Sex & Longing and Last Night Of Ballyhoo: Both Broadway shows, the first by Christopher Durang, the second by Alfred Uhry, featured Dana Ivey as a prim, difficult woman behaving unkindly toward the man in her life.
Bunny Bunny and God Said `Ha!': Alan Zweibel's sweet comedy traced the author's longtime friendship with Gilda Radner, a "Saturday Night Live" star who succumbed to cancer. Julia Sweeney's one-woman show took a more in-depth look at that SNL star's battle with the disease.
Tap Dogs, Stomp, Noise/Funk: Call this one a trend. Stomp (influenced to some extent by Blue Man Group) opened the gate for pure, muscular, percussive dance as an evening of theatre. Let's not forget Riverdance and Lord Of The Dance as off-shoots of the Irish based entertainment, and Bob Avian's work in London's Martin Guerre, which seems to have been influenced by the entire trend.
Defending The Caveman and John Gray - Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus: Men are hunters, women are explorer/gatherers, whence comes a whole host of differences. When Caveman's author/performer, Rob Becker, took the show on tour, Michael Chiklis took over at the Booth Theatre. The continued success of the show no doubt inspired author Gray to bring his seminar, briefly, to Broadway.
Magic On Broadway and David Copperfield - Dreams & Nightmares, Penn & Teller aside, magic-as-entertainment has been relatively rare in NYC since the days of Doug Henning, so the 1996-97 season is unusual in having two traditional magic shows. Magic On Broadway is actually Off-Broadway (at the Lamb's Theatre); Copperfield's show broke box office records at the Martin Beck. Neither should be confused with Lanford Wilson's Sympathetic Magic, at the Second Stage Theatre.
The Gin Game and Dealer's Choice. Both plays use card games (gin rummy and poker) as a way to establish the characters' rapport, with an underpinning of potential violence adding urgency to the game.
The Gin Game, Bermuda Avenue Triangle and On Deaf Ears. All three comedy-dramas concern senior citizens forging new relationships when they've been all-but-abandoned by the younger set. Triangle and Deaf Ears also deal with overcoming the obstacles of a December-December romance.
A Question Of Mercy and An American Daughter both have leading characters who fail in their suicide attempts.
The Three Sisters, The Three Sisters and The Three Sisters. Nine sisters roamed through the New York season, with one trio on Broadway in an American production (Amy Irving, Lily Taylor and Jeanne Tripplehorn), another troupe on Broadway from Moscow's Sovremennik Theatre; and a third trio downtown at La MaMa in a time-shifting adaptation by Richard Schechner.
And what could be more double-double than Bunny Bunny and a revival of Promises Promises?
Playbill On-Line would love to hear readers' suggestions for other doppelgangers this season. Please send responses to firstname.lastname@example.org. We're especially interested if you've spotted the trend taking root in other cities and countries.
--By David Lefkowitz