PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Nov. 15-21: Bad News Broadway

News   PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Nov. 15-21: Bad News Broadway
This fall's season is sizing up as an object lesson that strikes, blizzards and blackouts aren't the only disasters with which 21st century Broadway has to contend. There has always that old standby: bad shows.

November has been a cold and unforgiving month. In less than two weeks, four shows have shuttered barely having arrived. One, Bobbi Boland, closed without officially opening, becoming the first Broadway play in a decade to fold during previews. A second, The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, call it quits Nov. 18 after a single full performance. The third, Jackie Mason's comedy with music, Laughing Room Only, will have had the longest run of the three. Opening on Nov. 19 to some particularly abusive notices by some very unamused critics, it waited two days before announcing it would go dark on Nov. 30. It will have had the shortest run of any Mason show since A Teaspoon Every Four Hours, something Mason wrote with Mike Morton which ran for a single performance (and 97 previews!) in 1969. Finally, late on Nov. 21, the luckless comedy Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks, gave up the fight, resolving to close by the end of the weekend.

The producers of those shows may be the lucky ones, however. Other entertainments have been plagued by star illnesses and/or unending gossip and rumor. Two Rialto-bound shows couldn't even make it through the Holland Tunnel. Even the Pulitzer-winner Anna in the Tropics, which opened Nov. 16, couldn't muster a critical consensus as to its quality. Overall, the Broadway producing community must be feeling a little faint around now. The only bit of tonic for Broadway's general ills was spooned by critics to (wouldn't you know it) the nonprofit Lincoln Center Theater, which won warm reviews for its Jack O'Brien-directed epic Henry IV. Singled out was Kevin Kline, in what critics lauded as a rare example of genius Shakespearean acting by an American.

In contrast, Off-Broadway, while still in an economic slump, is registering a goodly number of critical hits, including Lisa Loomer's Living Out at Second Stage, The Long Christmas Ride Home at the Vineyard Theatre, Beckett/Albee at Century Center, Tristine Skyler's The Moonlight Room at Worth Street Theatre, Oren Safdie's Private Jokes, Public Places at the Theatre at the Center for Architecture and, now, Amy Freed's The Beard of Avon at New York Theatre Workshop. The later opened Nov. 18 to a round of plaudits and word is already circulating about a Broadway transfer.

The Kennedy Center, which saluted Stephen Sondheim with six stagings in 2002, announced some casting for its upcoming "Tennessee Williams Explored," the institution's latest valiant attempt to restore the reputation of an unknown American theatre artist. Sally Field will be Amanda, Patricia Clarkson will be Blanche and Dana Ivey will be Big Mama in The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, respectively.

Finally, Dorothy Loudon died this week. In a career a little too replete with personal triumphs in critical and commercial flops, she had one standout all around success. But what a success. As recent written and spoken tributes have attested, a quarter century has not dimmed people's memory of the singular comic creation that was the hilariously evil Miss Hannigan in Annie.

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