PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill—Audra Takes a Holiday

By Harry Haun
14 Apr 2014

Lanie Robertson
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Primary Stages has presented two of his most notable bio-dramas: Nasty Little Secrets about murdered playwright Joe Orton and Woman Before a Glass about bohemian socialite/art collector Peggy Guggenheim. "The characters I write about I choose because I think they're emblematic of societal problems. It's a way to deal with contemporary problems—in Orton's case, homophobia; in Billie's case, racism."

A similar key moment opens his new play. "It's about the 50-year friendship of Claude Monet and Georges Clemenceau. The play is set in April 1914, a couple of months before the First World War began and a month after Monet had given up painting following the death of his son. He had cataracts and was signing off on painting anymore. Clemenceau came to Giverny with a commission from the French government for him to do a big painting. Overcoming a lot of internal obstacles on Monet's part, Clemenceau persuades him to begin something. I don't know if the play is good or bad, but the ending's sensational because he paints The Water Lily. It's called The Gardener because Monet once said, 'There are only two things I'm good at in life: gardening and painting.' At that point in life, he'd sworn off painting, and he said, 'This garden is going to be my legacy. I'm not painting anymore.'"

How does he find The Big Moment in the life he is dramatizing? "If this person at the point in his or her life speaks to a problem in society," he said. "With The Gardener, it's how does one continue—at the end of one's life—to do one's job in the face of enormous grief? The answer is friends. The love of friends can call you back to life."

McDonald had her own cheering section in place: Pippin director Diane Paulus, who guided her to a Tony as Bess; Mothers and Sons' Terrence McNally, who wrote her two Tony-winning roles (Master Class and Ragtime); Brian Stokes Mitchell, who was Tony-nominated opposite her in Ragtime; Norm Lewis, musing over his musical travels, playing her Porgy between musical trips to Paris (from Les Miz to The Phantom of the Opera for the next six months), and Bryonha Marie Parham, also of Porgy and Bess.

At least five Tony-winning actresses turned out to hail the five-time Tony winner: Anika Noni Rose, Nikki M. James, Phylicia Rashad, pretty-in-pink Tonya Pinkins and Adriane Lenox. Playwright Robertson had his followers, too—notably Leslie Uggams, who starred as Ethel Waters in his Stringbean, and S. Epatha Merkerson, who replaced Lonette McKee in the original Off-Broadway edition of Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill.

Having given at the office, casts from several shows came after their matinees to welcome the new kid on the Broadway block—from Aladdin (Adam Jacobs and Courtney Reed); the Presidentially favored A Raisin in the Sun (LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Sophie Okonedo, Jason Dirden and Bryce Clyde Jenkins); the Presidentially slighted All The Way (J. Bernard Calloway, Susannah Schulman, Peter Jay Fernandez, Danny Johnson, Gina Daniels and Christopher Gurr); The Realistic Joneses (Marisa Tomei); the current Les Misérables (Will Swenson and Ramin Karimloo with wife Mandy Karimloo); Beautiful (Ainka Larsen, Jarrod Spector); If/Then (LaChanze and Jerry Dixon with Mario Cantone); Bullets Over Broadway (Brooks Ashmanskas); Rocky (David Andrew Macdonald and Andy Karl with Orfeh); The Velocity of Autumn (Stephen Spinella); and After Midnight (Carmen Ruby Floyd and Daniel J. Watts).

"I'm going to do a small part, Ursula, in Much Ado About Nothing," trilled Kathryn Meisle. "The Delacorte's a great venue. I love it. The first time I worked there, I was with Raul Julia, playing Desdemona to his Othello. The last time was 12 years ago. I played Olivia in Twelfth Night. There's nothing like walking to work in Central Park."