The play that began on the West Coast as Rose and Walsh (earning a rave in Variety) at the Geffen Playhouse is now called Rose's Dilemma, a tale of two aging lovers that touches on ideas of mortality and literary legacy. In previews toward the opening, Mary Tyler Moore quit the role of Rose due to interference from Simon, who was reportedly unhappy with her work.
By now you've heard the story: Just before the Wednesday matinee Dec. 3, Moore received a letter from Simon telling her to learn her lines. (She was also using an earpiece to feed lines, according to reports).
Exit Mary, enter unwanted media exposure that may or may not impact critics' views of the latter-day work by the man who gave us The Odd Couple, Lost in Yonkers and Brighton Beach Memoirs.
Understudy Patricia Hodges earned the permanent assignment Dec. 5, two days after the distressed Moore fled.
On behalf of Manhattan Theatre Club, artistic director Lynne Meadow and executive producer Barry Grove said, in a statement, "We are disappointed that the Neil Simon/Mary Tyler Moore collaboration did not work out. We respect enormously the talents of both Ms. Moore and Mr. Simon."
Now, MTC would like the onstage drama to overshadow the offstage. The Moore-Simon spat was so engrossing that it was easy to forget that the respected Tony Award winner John Cullum is the leading man of the play.
The play is Simon's 33rd and concerns a Long Island based writer (Hodges), her lover (played by Cullum) and their two assistants (played by Geneva Carr and David Aaron Baker). Baker played the same role in the L.A. run, which starred Jane Alexander and Len Cariou.
"In a Hamptons beach house, celebrated writer Rose Stein is at a crossroads," according to production notes. "She's running out of money and needs to write the next 'big thing' fast. When her former lover, literary lion Walsh McLaren, has the brainstorm that could make her a fortune, she leaps at the chance. With the help of her assistant Arlene Moss and newcomer Gavin Clancy, how she'll pull it off is one of the dilemmas in this most intriguing play by Pulitzer Prize and Tony-Award winning Neil Simon."
Hodges' Broadway credits include Dancing at Lughnasa, Six Degrees of Separation and The Best Man. She appeared in Off-Broadway's Communicating Doors, On the Verge and The Normal Heart. She was part of the national tour of Lincoln Center's Carousel.
MTC's Broadway staging of The Violet Hour also had a rocky start in the casting department earlier this fall: Laura Benanti left the show in rehearsals and Jasmine Guy (playing an altogether different role) dropped out in previews.
Over at Roundabout Theatre Company, Jenna Elfman was announced for Nine but never joined the company because of what was called insufficient rehearsal time for her.
The limited Off-Broadway engagement of Rose's Dilemma ends Feb. 1, 2004, at MTC's City Center Stage I.