THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Dec. 2-8: Go Ask Alice

News   THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Dec. 2-8: Go Ask Alice It may not seem like much, but, at least to this writer, the biggest theatre news of the week is that Edward Albee’s Tiny Alice opened at Off-Broadway’s Second Stage company to a good review. And that review was in the New York Times. Yes, other publications disliked the show, but Variety was mixed, and word is other positive notices are coming down the pike. The unexpectedly sunny reception has resulted in an extension of the production until Dec. 31.
Richard Thomas and Laila Robins star in Tiny Alice; Charlie Hofheimer and Emily Bergel in Old Money. Anna Maria Alberghetti in Carnival.
Richard Thomas and Laila Robins star in Tiny Alice; Charlie Hofheimer and Emily Bergel in Old Money. Anna Maria Alberghetti in Carnival. (Photo by <i>Tiny Alice</i> photo by T. Charles Erickson; <i>Money</i> photo by Joan Marcus)

It may not seem like much, but, at least to this writer, the biggest theatre news of the week is that Edward Albee’s Tiny Alice opened at Off-Broadway’s Second Stage company to a good review. And that review was in the New York Times. Yes, other publications disliked the show, but Variety was mixed, and word is other positive notices are coming down the pike. The unexpectedly sunny reception has resulted in an extension of the production until Dec. 31.

To anyone with even a sketchy knowledge of the history of Tiny Alice, the above events are a wonder. Along with Arthur Miller’s After the Fall, Albee’s Alice is one of those rare things: a work by a major American author which, unveiled at the height of his success, was almost universally reviled on first sight. The original production was presented on Broadway in December 1964, with John Gielgud and Irene Worth under the direction of Alan Schneider. The play was greeted by the audience with actual boos (when’s the last time you heard one of those?) and by the critics with largely negative reviews. The tone of the notices was all the most noteworthy since Alice was Albee's first full-length play since the hyper-praised Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? In March 1965, Albee took the extraordinary measure of holding a press conference to address critical response, attacking such reviewers as Walter Kerr. In the months to come, Alice continued to give Albee trouble. He commented that the show’s English actors were needed due to the difficulty of the play’s language, thus bringing the ire of Equity down on the his head. Later, the author criticized the work methods of Gielgud, creating a rift between the two artists. (Gielgud and Worth famously admitted that they did not know what the play they were enacting was about.) In short, the drama surrounding the play was a lot more interesting than the drama itself.

So far, Albee has had nothing bad to say about Richard Thomas (and he shouldn’t - Thomas received across-the-board huzzahs) and has held no press conferences. Oh, well. There’s still The Play About the Baby to come this season. Perhaps that will kick up some Albee-esque dust.

Other productions extended beside Tiny Alice. The Roundabout Theatre Company’s prolonged its mounting of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal by one week, to Feb. 4. And Lily Tomlin’s The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe tacked on a whole month at the Booth Theatre, looking, perhaps, to become the Dame Edna of this season. (Or, was Dame Edna the Lily Tomlin of 1999?)

Other acts made their goodbyes. The Gorey Details, the musical concoction that reintroduced theatre audiences to the macabre and darkly funny work of writer-artist Edward Gorey, will end Off-Broadway on Dec. 10, after two months of performances. And Andrea McArdle left Beauty and the Beast on Dec. 6. McArdle joined the musical on March 3, 1999. Her run as Belle is the longest in the Broadway production's history, and, arguably, the actress’ most successful gig since Annie. The new Broadway revival of Herb Gardner’s comedy isn’t calling it quits, but it is having a hard time finding room at the Great White Inn. The Tom Selleck vehicle was supposed to have a couple of regional stops in late winter and reach Broadway by April 16, 2001. But producers have scotched that timeframe, owing to a lack of available Broadway houses at the end of this season. The target date for Broadway previews is now July 3, 2001, with a theatre still to be announced.

Wendy Wasserstein this week honored her tradition of opening a new play every four years or so. The new work, Old Money, stars John Cullum (in a rare non-musical stage turn) and Mary Beth Hurt, and bowed at Lincoln Center Theater's Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre. Mark Brokaw was the director. Wasserstein continues to be a popular draw; the show sold out its entire run before opening night.

Finally, the theatre community has come to view Disney as a creator a new musical works, albeit often drawn from stories and songs that already exist in wide-screen animation format. But it appears that the Mouse may soon join the grand old Broadway tradition of mounting revivals. Disney has bought the theatrical rights to the 1961 Bob Merrill-Michael Stewart musical, Carnival. A private reading is expected in January. The original Broadway company of Carnival starred Anna Maria Alberghetti as a wistful French waif and Jerry Orbach as a carnival puppeteer, brutal in person but friendly through his puppets, who falls in love with her. The show ran for nearly two years, but remains relatively obscure. A Disney spokesperson told Playbill On-Line, “This is really just a low-key reading. They just want to hear it read, and the hopes are that if it goes well, they’ll go forward. I guess people are surprised Disney’s involved because [Carnival] is not a `new’ show, but Disney isn’t just interested in new musicals; they loved the project and grabbed it.” And, of course, the story involves puppets — always a lucky thing where Disney is concerned.

— By Robert Simonson