PLAYBILL THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, March 10-16: Death of a Salesman Reviewed, Rebecca Reborn, Terrence McNally's Latest
By Robert Simonson
The highly anticipated new Broadway revival of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman — which, with every passing year, and every Broadway production, seems more and more to have assumed the status of The Great American Play — opened this week, with Philip Seymour Hoffman as Willy Loman, and Mike Nichols at the helm.
The show, a limited run, has already registered as a audience hit, with weekly takes of the box office more than respectable. For the most part, the critics felt the ticketbuyers were showing good taste.
The New York Times found the production admirable, but too deliberate, saying not only that seeing it felt like "visiting an important national landmark," but comparing this Loman house to something on "the Literary Register of Historic Places." More critically, Ben Brantley found every one of the three lead actors to be "miscast," with Hoffman too pre-defeated, and too young.
Others — many others, really — disagreed. Bloomberg news found the revival "magnificent." The Wall Street Journal wrote, "Mr. Nichols's unostentatiously right staging of Death of a Salesman… is in harmony with Mr. Hoffman's plain, blunt acting." The Hollywood Reporter found it "impeccably cast down to the smallest roles," and said "I had never before experienced the overwhelming impact of the drama to this degree, nor appreciated the extent to which Miller's observations are culturally specific while at the same time universal and prophetic." "The scenes crackle, Miller’s poetry sings and the machinery of domestic tragedy clicks horribly into place," said Time Out. In the end, there were more than enough complimentary words to fill two full pages of ads.
On two points most everyone agreed. Hoffman, however good, seemed too young to play the 60-something salesman. And Nichols' decision to recreate Jo Mielziner's iconic original set was a stroke of genius, one that transported viewers back to a moment in legendary theatrical history.
The Pearl Theatre Company doesn't really do new plays. They do old plays. That's their thing.
But they apparently could not say no to the offer of a world-premiere play by Terrence McNally as part of its inaugural season in its new home, the 42nd Street theatre complex formerly occupied by the Signature Theatre Company.
Actually, the Pearl commissioned McNally to author the historically anchored play And Away We Go, which will run April 19-May 19, 2013. The play time-travels from backstage in ancient Athens to a rehearsal at London's Globe Theatre, from Versailles' Royal Theater to the first reading of a new play by Chekhov and the American premiere of Waiting for Godot. You get the idea. It's not old theatre, but it's about old theatre.
Postponed from the current season, Rebecca the Musical is back on the road to Manderley. It will open this fall at the Broadhurst Theatre on Broadway, producer Ben Sprecher announced — in quite modern fashion — on the musical's Facebook page March 14.
It was not immediately clear if the previously announced principal cast — a very nice group including Sierra Boggess, Tam Mutu, Karen Mason, James Barbour, Howard McGillin, Donna English, Nick Wyman and Henry Stram — would be available to return to the project
The producers of the new musical based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier had previously announced on Jan. 24 that the show's spring launch was being postponed until the 2012-13 season. The money was not in place at that time.
Jessica Chastain, the title character in the upcoming Broadway revival of The Heiress, has a daddy.
David Strathairn will play the imposing and unfeeling Dr. Sloper in the new production, which will be directed by Moises Kaufman. The two actors shared a stage back in 2004 in Richard Nelson's Rodney's Wife. It will open in fall 2012 at a theatre to be announced.
Some characters are so owned by one actor, that all other thespians wisely steer clear of the role for fear of landing squarely in the shadow of their predecessor.
But Val Kilmer must be made of braver — or more foolhardy — stuff. He will present his one-man play, Citizen Twain, which he wrote, directed and stars in, for a limited two-weekend run at the Masonic Lodge at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
Twain, of course, was the role of a lifetime for Hal Holbrook, who first performed his Mark Twain one-man show Mark Twain Tonight! in 1954, and continued to trot out the work regularly over the next 40 years. However, one place Holbrook never performed the work, I'm pretty sure, is a cemetery. Kilmer beat him to that distinction.
Finally, Tom Murrin, the long-time theatre critic for Paper magazine, and a downtown playwright and performance artist, died this week. Murrin was a fixture in New York's downtown theatre scene for decades.
Murrin is the latest loss to a critical community that has been robbed of many seasoned voices in the last two years. AP critic Michael Kuchwara died in May 2010. Donald Lyons died in July 2011. And longtime Daily News critic Howard Kissel passed last month. With them went the knowledge culled from 120 years of combined theatregoing experience.
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