True West, the biggest commercial hit Broadway's Circle in the Square has had in years, now faces its first serious test at the box office. That's when Tony-nominated stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly leave the production, which has been routinely filling 90-100 percent of its seats.
Taking the duo's place, starting June 21, will be Josh Brolin and Elias Koteas. Brolin, the son of actor James Brolin, began his film career in "The Goonies" in 1985. He has since appeared in such films as "Mimic" and "The Mod Squad." He has numerous stage credits at the GeVa Theatre in Rochester, NY, where he earned his stripes as an actor. Koteas has appeared in a wide range of films, including the controversial "Crash," the war drama "The Thin Red Line," the sci-fi flick "Gattaca," "Living Out Loud" and "Apt Pupil."
The Broadway premiere of True West -- two decades after it was written -- began performances Feb. 17 and opened March 9. Sam Shepard's dark comedy has broken box office records at Circle in the Square Theatre. Even though the show won no Tonys, the week following the Awards ceremony (June 5-11) saw True West booked beyond capacity (100.63 percent), filling the coffers to the tune of $300,512. According to spokespersons at Boneau/Bryan-Brown, the show has recouped its investment.
As such, the producers had wanted stars Hoffman and Reilly to stay on as long as possible, but other commitments made it impossible for them to stay past the Tony Awards weekend (i.e., through June 4). They extended two extra weeks -- through June 18.
True West has won nearly across-the-board raves for its pairing of Hoffman and Reilly, who switch lead roles every few performances. The casting gambit is especially off-beat, since the characters they play end up switching personalities by evening’s end. Neat, business-oriented Austin has changed characteristics with his slobby, unstable, drifter brother, Lee, who ends up plunging headlong into the world of screenplays, agents and golf course business deals. Though director Matthew Warchus asked the Tony Administration Committee to consider Hoffman and Reilly as a single unit for Tony nominations (as the Siamesed Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner were for Side Show), the Committee ruled that both be considered separate performers -- and, as it happens, both Reilly and Hoffman received separate nominations. The work itself is also up for Best Play, eligible because it had never been done on Broadway before. Such seemingly odd stipulations (and industry complaints over Contact's orchestra less, original score-less Best Musical nomination) led the Administrators to institute a new category for next season, assumedly for shows that don't quite fit current criteria for Plays, Musicals or Revivals. (Reilly and Hoffman did get a single-unit nod from the Outer Critics Circle, which presented them with a Special Achievement Award, May 25.)
Brolin and Koteas will also switch roles -- but not immediately. Koteas will play Lee and Brolin will play Austin until July 26, at which point they'll switch parts. Then, come Aug. 7, they'll alternate roles every third performance.
Robert LuPone and Celia Weston complete the cast of this revival, and they will stay with the show indefinitely. Ron Kastner (RJK Productions) is producing the show, helmed by Warchus, who staged True West in London in 1994. True West is also eyeing London, with a West End mounting targeted for October. No word yet on casting.
Actor Hoffman's recent New York credits include The Skriker, The Author's Voice and Shopping and Fucking. Reilly followed Chicago's Steppenwolf troupe to Broadway in The Grapes of Wrath in 1990. Not only did Reilly and Hoffman appear together in such films as "Hard Eight" and "Boogie Nights," Reilly was instrumental in bringing Hoffman on board for True West.
Hoffman directed last season's In Arabia We'd All Be Kings for Off Broadway’s LAByrinth Theatre Company and is scheduled to stage A Question of Faith for them over the summer.
True West's 1980 debut, at the Public Theater, featured Peter Boyle and Tommy Lee Jones. The more famous 1982 staging at the Cherry Lane Theatre featured Chicago actors Gary Sinise and John Malkovich. Their pairing was eventually taped for broadcast on public television.
LuPone's credits include A Chorus Line and 1995's Clothes For a Summer Hotel at OB's York Theatre. He also coproduced 1998's Anadarko with Manhattan Class Company, where he serves as co- executive director. Weston appeared in the Roundabout's 1996 revival of Summer and Smoke and won an Outer Critics Circle Award for her work in 1997's Tony winner, The Last Night of Ballyhoo.
On Rosie O'Donnell's March 9 television broadcast, actors Hoffman and Reilly told her that as wild as the play can get, one scary-funny incident in early previews was a little too wild: In the scene where one character holds a tray of toast and the other smacks it out of his hand, the tray hit the ceiling a little too hard, dislodging a piece of hard plastic that came down ("like a guillotine" Reilly said) right between the two actors. They continued, sans ad-libs, with the scene despite the accident, with Hoffman adding that his friend, who saw the show that night, later told him, "I know it was scary for you, but it was great for the audience!."
Other plays by Shepard include Simpatico (recently filmed by director Warchus), Cowboy Mouth, Seduced, Eyes For Consuela, A Lie of the Mind and Curse of the Starving Class. 1978's Buried Child won the Pulitzer Prize and received a recent Broadway revival directed by Sinise. He also penned the screenplay for "Paris, Texas" with director Wim Wenders and has appeared as an actor in such films as "Baby Boom" and "Crimes of the Heart." Asked what he was currently working on, Shepard told Playbill On-Line (March 8), "I've finished a new play, but it hasn't got a title yet." (The Daily News reports that the title is The Late Henry Moss.) Shepard didn't feel comfortable talking about the plot but did say it would be done at San Francisco's Magic Theatre, where he's developed a relationship over the past couple of seasons. On “Larry King Live” in mid-February, Nick Nolte announced that he’d be appearing in the play opposite Sean Penn and Woody Harrelson.
For tickets ($67.50) and information on True West at Circle in the Square on West 50th Street, call (212) 239-6200.