PLAYBILL THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Oct. 13-19: Love Letters for Virginia, An Arrest in Rebecca Scandal, a Closed Park

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19 Oct 2012

Amy Morton and Tracy Letts
Amy Morton and Tracy Letts
Michael Brosilow

Few playwrights are afforded the privilege of learning whether their work has stood the test of time before they pass on to the other side. Edward Albee is one of the lucky ones. He wrote his magnum opus Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? fully 50 years ago. This week, he learned first-hand that the play still impressed and thrilled the critics a half-century after its birth.

The new Broadway production stars Tracy Letts and Amy Morton as George and Martha, a college-town husband and wife team, and Carrie Coon and Madison Dirks as Honey and Nick, their very unfortunate guests. The staging first surfaced in late 2010 at Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago, under the direction of Pam MacKinnon.

The reviews were those things that theatre types like to call (apparently approvingly) "raves." "The soul ache this superlative staging leaves behind is accompanied by a feeling far more emotionally enriching: the exhilaration of a fresh encounter with a great work of theater revitalized anew," wrote the New York Times. Hollywood Reporter appraised the effort thusly: "This superlative 50th anniversary revival shows that Edward Albee's marital-warfare masterwork remains in a class of its own." Bloomberg said, "Credit MacKinnon and her perfectly synchronized quartet for executing the play not as an allegory but as a real- time excursion into lives made unbearably common by compromise and self-delusion. It’s unforgiving, and it’s also unforgettable."

Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune also weighed in, saying, "MacKinnon's production, which essentially re-claims the work from its post-Hollywood identity — of a vehicle for a diva dangling on the edge and her handsome, self-loathing husband — is an ideal way to pay tribute to Albee. It banishes the image of Elizabeth Taylor (or even Kathleen Turner's) Martha and substitutes Morton's more vulnerable, down-to-earth characterization of the daughter of a college president and a woman who plays games, lashes out and ties herself in knots, but all in the service of keeping a lid on the dangerously disappointed, and thus dangerously destructive, guy she married and clearly still loves...Morton and Letts together convey, better than any of the other actors I've seen in this familiar drama, the essentially smallness of George and Martha's suffocating little republic, a dominion that can never reach beyond themselves."

The reviews led, by week's end, to a month-long extension in the production's limited run.

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Ben Sprecher

The tragic-comic tale of Rebecca: The Musical had its first arrest this week.

The FBI and the U.S. Attorney's office charged Long Island businessman Mark Hotton with defrauding the producers of the Broadway show by fabricating the prospect of $4.5 million in financing commitments, the agencies announced on Oct. 15. Hotton was arrested the same day.

Hotton is the shifty figure who cooked up the names of fictional businessman Paul Abrams and three other overseas investors, and then sold the phantom four to Rebecca producer Ben Sprecher, who never bothered to meet or phone any of the money men. (The others, for the record—and for your entertainment—were "Roger Thomas, of St. Peter Port, Guernsey; Julian Spencer, of Crocker Hill, Chichester, Sussex; and Walter Timmons, of London, United Kingdom." Love that one of the fake angels lives on the isle of Guernsey.)

Hotton was serving as a middleman between producers and supposed investors of the shuttered musical, and was to get more than $60,000 in fees and commissions for the introduction, according to the unsealed complaint. The sudden loss of the money from investors that Hotton allegedly promised resulted in the shutdown of the production, resulting in the loss of at least 100 jobs related to the musical.

Hotton is also charged with a second fraudulent scheme in which he tricked a Connecticut-based real estate company into paying him and entities he controlled $750,000 by using some of the same deceptions he employed in the Rebecca scheme, the law charged. He is charged with two counts of wire fraud. He faces a maximum term of 20 years in prison on each count.

Producers of Rebecca said they are planning to file a $100 million lawsuit in Manhattan Supreme Court against Hotton, charging he took tens of thousands of dollars in advances on commissions for bringing in non-existent backers. It may be the only way that Sprecher & Co. will ever make money off this show.

Danny Burstein

Danny Burstein has been enjoying the hot streak of his career in recent seasons. Ever since winning accolades and a Tony nomination for his florid turn as a Latin lover film star in The Drowsy Chaperone in 2006, he's been Broadway's go-to featured musical male, earning further Tony noms for South Pacific and Follies. But he's remained in the supporting category. (His role in Follies was a lead, yes, but one of four leads, so….)

But there's nothing supporting about his newest gig. He will be the Talley in the Roundabout Theatre Company production of Lanford Wilson's two-hander Talley's Folly. He will play opposite Sarah Paulson. The production, directed by Michael Wilson, will begin previews Off-Broadway Feb. 8, 2013, at the Laura Pels Theatre.

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In other Roundabout Theatre Company news, the Broadway revival of William Inge's Picnic will begin previews Dec. 14 at the American Airlines Theatre.

Directed by Sam Gold, the production will be led by Reed Birney as Howard Bevans, Maggie Grace as Madge Owens, Elizabeth Marvel as Rosemary Sydney, Sebastian Stan as Hal Carter, Mare Winningham as Flo Owens and Ellen Burstyn as Helen Potts.

Roundabout Theatre Company has a long history with William Inge, having produced the last Broadway production in 1994.

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Barry Edelstein
photo by Doug Gates

Barry Edelstein, who is currently the director of the Public Theater's Shakespeare Initiative in New York City, will become the artistic director of San Diego's The Old Globe beginning Nov. 1.

Edelstein has run theatre companies before. From 1998-2003, he was artistic director of Classic Stage Company Off-Broadway. He began working with the Public in 2007. Edelstein is regarded as an expert in all things Shakespeare.

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Some people just don't get the meaning of a play, even when they're producing it.

Bruce Norris' Pulitzer Prize-winning play Clybourne Park features white and African-American characters, and is largely about the subject of race relations as they change, and don't change, over the course of a half century in the same Chicago neighborhood.

The Deutsches Theatre in Berlin contracted to present the play. This week, Norris decided to revoke those rights. He had his reason. A pretty good one. Turns out that the director had cast one of the black roles with a white actress.

I'll let Norris take it from here. In an open letter to the Dramatists Guild, he said: "Disbelievingly, I contacted my agent who put me in touch with the management of Deutsches Theatre. Yes, they confirmed, it is true, we have cast a white ensemble member in this role, and we see no logical reason why we should cast an 'Afro-German.' (If you are familiar with my play at all, the reasons are self-evident.) After much evasion, justification and rationalizing of their reasons, they finally informed me that the color of the actress' skin would ultimately be irrelevant, since they intended to 'experiment with makeup.' At this point, I retracted the rights to the production."

This sort of "experimenting with makeup" is also known by the more familiar, but less anodyne, term of "blackface."

Blackface has long been decried in America and is never employed in stage productions (except when blackface or American racial history is the subject). However, it continues to be a widespread practice on the German stage.

So incendiary and absurd, the story sounds like the plot of a Bruce Norris play.