PLAYBILL THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, June 2-8: London Pride, and Kenneth Lonergan's Medieval Play
By Robert Simonson
New York is pretty much holding its breath until Tony night on June 10, so there's not much going on on The Street. So let's take this opportunity to track the action across the pond.
Remember the autobiographical Boy George musical Taboo, which played London and Broadway a decade ago? Well, Georgie Boy will be returning to the show in London, where it will begin performances Sept. 7 for a run that is booking through Dec. 23, at a new multi-purpose indoor and outdoor clubbing venue the Brixton Club House.
It will be directed by its original co-creator and director Christopher Renshaw, who staged the show's first production in 2002 in the converted basement of a church off Leicester Square (it has since become the Leicester Square Theatre).
Rowan Atkinson, the comic actor best known on both sides of the Atlantic as the silent and confident imbecile Mr. Bean, will star in the title role — a hopeless teacher in a 1960s English language school for foreigners — in a new West End production of Simon Gray's 1981 play Quartermaine's Terms. It will begin performances Jan. 23, 2013, at the Vaudeville Theatre, following a couple of out-of-town dates.
Quartermaine's Terms marks Atkinson's first appearance in a play for almost 25 years, though most recently he starred as Fagin in Oliver! at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. The show will be directed by Richard Eyre.
Ken Stott, Anna Friel and Samuel West will headline in a new West End production of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, beginning performances Oct. 24 at the Vaudeville Theatre, booking for a limited run through Feb. 16, 2013.
The play is being adapted by England's King Adapter, Christopher Hampton, and will be directed by Lindsay Posner. Stott will play the hapless Vanya, Friel the sought-after beauty Yelena, and West the cerebral Astrov.
The Broadway smash The Book of Mormon is getting ready to ring the West End's doorbell. The musical will begin performances Feb. 25, 2013, at the Prince of Wales Theatre, prior to an official opening planned for around March 21. Tickets are scheduled to go on sale to the general public Sept. 13.
What do the British know of Mormonism? Well, it little bit more than they did last year, thanks to likely Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney. London co-producer Sonia Friedman commented, "It's not unhelpful that he's running for President."
The new season at London's Hampstead Theatre will kick off with a revival of David Hare's The Judas Kiss, with Rupert Everett very aptly cast as Oscar Wilde. The original production in 1998 starred the more improbable Wilde of Liam Neeson.
The season will also include a new work by Howard Brenton, who, yes, is still writing plays. 55 Days is his account of the tumultuous periods in English history which led up to the execution of Charles I.
55 Days would not seem like an unlikely prospect for an American transfer, the subject matter being so very English.
Or is it?
American playwright Kenneth Lonergan seems to think we might be interested in vanished European royalty. His latest, Medieval Play, which opened this week at the Signature Theatre Company, is set in 14th-century Europe and deals with such riveting matters as the Great Papal Schism.
Drama critics generally love Lonergan. But Medieval Play created a schism of its own, between the playwright and his assessors.
"Bloated, gaseous, archly self-conscious and on occasion truly funny, Medieval Play is like a vintage 'Saturday Night Live' sketch that won’t die," wrote the Times. A few other reviews cited "SNL" as well. Said the Daily News, "Set in late-14th-century Europe, the action follows a knight on a quest for moral redemption. If it sounds like a 'Saturday Night Live' sketch waiting to happen, that’s not too far off the mark." (Note: Being compared to an "SNL" skit is never a good thing for a play.)
Entertainment Weekly, like a few others, criticized Lonergan for directing the piece. "In this distractingly unfocused production, where funny punchlines fall flat because of poor placement and interesting ideas are obscured by buffoon-style stage business, Lonergan the playwright appears to be desperately jousting with Lonergan the director." And everyone said the play was just too long. "I laughed my ass off," wrote Time Out New York, "then became aware that it was getting sore."
One publication that did like the play, Bloomberg, called it "Spamalot without the songs, but nearly as many laughs." Who would have thought that Lonergan would ever write something described like that?
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