PLAYBILL THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Feb. 11-17: Julie Taymor Gets Her Spidey Royalties, CQ/CX and How I Learned to Drive Open
By Robert Simonson
Producers of Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark reached a settlement with the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society this week. And the agreement was probably to the liking of the musical's erstwhile director, Julie Taymor.
The producers have agreed to pay Taymor "full royalties for her director services for the New York production of Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark, from the inception of the run through its duration pursuant to the terms of her Director's agreement, and to pay certain other amounts due to Taymor as a Collaborator, when the show's New York production recoups."
Note that last phrase: "when the show's New York production recoups." So Collaborator Julie may have to wait a bit for that particular check. But Director Julie will be getting some sizable coin pronto. Taymor, according to the New York Times, will be paid $9,750 a week in royalties for the remainder of the show's Broadway run. That's a half a million a year, folks.
The SDC also agreed that Taymor's services as a director and collaborator are completed, and that she will have no further involvement with the show in those capacities. All claims of breach by the parties in the arbitration have been withdrawn.
Federal lawsuits filed by Taymor and the musical's producers are still pending.
Casting is complete for the Broadway transfer of the popular West End comedy One Man, Two Guvnors, about a manservant pulled between two bosses and his own voracious appetite. As previously reported, James Corden repeats his London work as butler Francis Henshall.
Joining him are ten performers from the original London cast who are crossing the pond for the American premiere. The Broadway engagement of the Nicholas Hytner-directed Goldoni-inspired comedy will open at the Music Box April 18 following previews from April 6.
In other Broadway casting news, Larry Bryggman, Peter Benson, Tracee Chimo, Holley Fain, Angela Paton, Rich Sommer, Morgan Spector and Carol Kane will stand alongside star Jim Parsons, and previously announced players Jessica Hecht and Charles Kimbrough in the new Broadway production of Harvey for Roundabout Theatre Company.
Previews begin May 18 at Studio 54. The official opening is June 14. Scott Ellis directs.
There were two significant Off-Broadway openings this week.
Arguably the more interesting is Gabe McKinley's CQ/CX by the Atlantic Theater Company. The opening was less intriguing for the content of the script than for the real-world drama that surrounded it. The play was inspired by the Jayson Blair scandal at the New York Times, a paper where McKinley worked for many years, and where his two journalist brothers continue to work. The Times, of course, is a major player in the world of New York theatres. Its theatre reviews are the most "impactful" (as the boys in marketing like to say) notices any production gets. The meeting of the Times and a play about the Times was bound to be a provocative one.
So, who did the Times send to cover the production? Well, not a Times writer. Frank Rizzo, a longtime critic at the Hartford Courant and a regular contributor to Variety, got the byline. His thoughts? Well, he didn't like it. "The play is burdened with tiresome or pompous dialogue," he wrote, "and a central character who remains a blank." The other critics tended to agree with Rizzo, saying the play was "two hours of inside baseball," and thinking the play "occasionally feels like a beat-by-beat re-creation of an actual news story, even though we could use a little more editorializing to answer the question of ''Why?'" A few, however, found it "crisp and smart."
At Second Stage Theatre, meanwhile, Paula Vogel's How I Learned to Drive, her dark Pulitzer Prize-winning coming-of-age play about a teenage girl and the troubled but loving uncle who regularly molests her, received its first significant New York revival, with Elizabeth Reaser and Norbert Leo Butz in the leading roles.
Some reviewers longed for the original stars, David Morse and Mary Louise Parker, but mostly people thought the revival was fine and — as with the new production of Wit a few weeks back — proved the durability of the play as a modern classic. The Times wrote that the play arrived "with its emotional power undiluted. If anything, How I Learned to Drive seems even sadder, funnier and more perceptive, now that its original shock value has evaporated….Mr. Butz and Ms. Reaser are as convincing as their predecessors, though in a different way. Their performances shift the balances of power and blame that give the play its living, breathing form. And we’re reminded that Ms. Vogel did not write a tract or a diatribe but a mutable work of art that can be reinterpreted without losing its essential shape." The Daily News said "Director Kate Whoriskey's staging moves with cinematic swiftness across the time and tone changes. It is motored by her two terrific leads." And the Post observed the work "still manages to bring a startling complexity to its queasy subject matter. It’s an uncomfortable play to watch. And that’s exactly as it should be."
The Jacksonian, the new Southern-set play by Beth Henley, officially opens Feb. 15 at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. The production has won a higher-than-usual profile due to its solid, Hollywood-style cast, including Bill Pullman, Amy Madigan and Ed Harris. Robert Falls, artistic director of the Goodman Theatre, directed the eerie play set in a seedy motel in Jackson, MS, in 1964.
Back Stage described the play as combining "the zany style of Southern dramedy that cemented Henley's reputation with a bleak view of unadulterated evil, seasoned with a touch of Grand Guignol," along with "absurdist influences reminiscent of Arthur Kopit" and "an audaciously perverse sensibility recalling David Lynch in his prime." That's quite a load on influences. And how did Back Stage think that mash-up went? "The play has an unfinished feel. Character development is sketchy, the surreal elements come across as too cryptic, and Henley's ultimate points aren't clear."
However, Variety called the play Henley's "strongest offering since the Pulitzer-winning Crimes of the Heart three decades ago… Henley and The Jacksonian earn a place alongside Flannery O'Connor for the searing investigation of twisted pathology to be found both above and below the Mason-Dixon line."
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