PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial: The Cracking of Captain Queeg

News   PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial: The Cracking of Captain Queeg
There’s a good six- or seven-minute stretch in the second act of The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, which opened May 7 at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, where the only movement on its crowded stage are the fingers of the court stenographer (Tom Gottlieb) going 90 mph and the man on the witness stand (Zeljko Ivanek) wagging his finger at those accusing him of incompetence under fire and proving their point with every gesture.

David Schwimmer; Zeljko Ivanek; Herman Wouk; Tim Daly; Jeffrey Richards; Patricia Clarkson & Jerry Zaks; Dana Ivey; Fran Drescher; Eric Bogosian; Audra McDonald; J. Robert Spencer; Michael Cerveris.
David Schwimmer; Zeljko Ivanek; Herman Wouk; Tim Daly; Jeffrey Richards; Patricia Clarkson & Jerry Zaks; Dana Ivey; Fran Drescher; Eric Bogosian; Audra McDonald; J. Robert Spencer; Michael Cerveris. Photo by Aubrey Reuben

The other nine men on stage stare in sad, stunned silence at the crumbling of an old-guard Navy veteran as Lieutenant Commander Philip Francis Queeg goes spectacularly to pieces.

When Ivanek finishes his job, having babbled to an embarrassed stopping-point, he rises unsteadily, pulls together what’s left of his tattered dignity and makes a slow, pained exit.

To thunderous and prolonged applause.

This has been a common occurrence for Queegs over the years, according to Herman Wouk, the man who wrote the scene when he made a play of his 1952 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "The Caine Mutiny." The beauty of this revival is that, when Wouk works, it transports you back to that very stage where the play premiered in 1954 (it was known as the Plymouth in those days) in that long-gone golden age of Broadway.

Wouk came in for his fair share of thunderous and prolonged applause when he was summoned to the stage by David Schwimmer, who stars here as Lt. Barney Greenwald, the attorney who reluctantly defends the officer who has relieved Queeg of his command. Moving even slower than Queeg in defeated retreat, Wouk—who will be 91 in 20 days—made his way to close to center-stage, then spoke in a voice that was barely audible at the outset but rose and soared with the hurricane force of a deep personal commitment.

“With thanks to the brave producers, with thanks to the brilliant direction, with thanks to this great company,” he declared with gathering passion, “I dedicate this production of The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial to the guys in Iraq who fight the war.”

This second Broadway revival of the classic courtroomer came with the chaotic commotion generally accompanying pop-stars trying a change-of-pace—in this case Schwimmer, through a decade of TV’s “Friends”—a noise second only to that generated by the girl next door at the Jacobs in Three Days of Rain. Fans were out in droves.

The revival’s lead producer, Jeffrey Richards, arrived at the Schoenfeld looking snappy in a Naval uniform he had the wardrobe lady snag for him (Richards was a publicist long before he was a producer—and, as of last year’s Glengarry Glen Ross, a Tony-winning producer at that). On his arm was his most frequently employed actress, Elizabeth Ashley, exuding her Subdued Exuberance aura, insisting to the photographers the only thing worth photographing was her sexy, spaghetti-stringed sandals. (They were sexy.)

Jerry Zaks, an actor who turned into one of Broadway’s best “actor directors,” praised all hands. “They did great—they all did great,” he cheers. “I love the whole company. Every day we’d find another piece of the puzzle to fit together. I loved going to work because these actors had no personal agendas to screw up the work. They just came to work every day. I know that must sound like a cliche, but I’m tellin' ya: they came and they worked and worked hard and they never moaned. They just worked, and I think it shows.”

Schwimmer did a nod back to Zaks for steering him through his Broadway debut. “Jerry is so fantastic,” he says. “He kept everyone on their toes and really worked on every actor’s individual performance, and, as you see, every actor has such a distinct character.”

Also making his Broadway debut was Joe Sikora, in the role of the accused, Lt. Stephen Maryk. The prosecuting attorney, Lt. Com. John Challee, was played by an almost-as-green Tim Daly, in his first time back on the Main Stem since 1987 when he won a Theatre World Award for Tina Howe’s Coastal Disturbances—“many years ago,” he sighs wistfully. His leading lady in that, Annette Bening, went directly to Hollywood, married her first leading man (Warren Beatty), had a brood of four and only now is inching back to the stage (recently in The Cherry Orchard at the Ahmanson in L.A.).

The after-party spilled over four floors of Sardi’s, another deep bow to the bygone glories of Broadway. Tyne Daly, singing the praises of her little brother at the table, had a slight regret: “I was hoping we would be playing together, but Rabbit Hole closed just a little too soon for us to overlap. Maybe, next time.”

Four of Wouk’s five nephews were in attendance. One, Jordan Wouk, went to the same college as producer Richards. “I don’t know if you’re aware of it,” he says, “but Herman writes all the time. He’s writing right now another novel. That’s all he does. He says, ‘What [else] am I going to do?’ When he was at Columbia, he wrote the jester shows. He was a gag writer for Fred Allen at the beginning, and then he went to war.”

Doubtlessly, Wouk encountered officers with the same extreme good-bad stripes as Queeg. Ivanek revels in the contradictions. “To me, the writing is so good and so clearly plotted that it is almost like an orchestration,” he says, “trying to figure out how to carry all of that through and not peak too soon and when to start giving things away.

“There are nights when there is no applause. Sometimes it just feels deathly quiet afterwards, so I’ll take that. That seems as good as applause.”

Geoffrey Nauffts, an actor with edge, plays the true villain of the piece—Lt. Thomas Keefer, a cynical, brainy novelist and all-around snake-in-the-grass who manipulates the mutiny and lets Maryk take the fall by himself. He gets a drink flung in his face for his skullduggery—eight times a week. The only actor with a worse job on Broadway is Edward Hibbert, who is repeatedly spewed with water by Georgia Engels in The Drowsy Chaperone. Nauffts reacts great to the come-uppance. “I don’t normally get to play the bad guy. I do on television sometimes, but on stage not much. So this is fun.”

For a training film, he had a looksee at the 1954 film in which Keefer was played by, of all people, Fred MacMurray—and rather brilliantly. "There’s a lot more to the role in the movie. You really get to see his manipulation. The part is more elusive in the play. It’s complicated. With as little as we have, you have to do a lot. That’s the challenge of it."

Gottleib put in his stenography homework, like any actor who prepares. “I had a little tutorial by a stenography consultant who helped us with the show,” he says, “and I just did a little research of my own, going to criminal courts and stuff like that. More than anything, I’m trying to be unobtrusive and not pull focus from what’s going on and just contribute to the overall look of the show.”

There are 11 speaking roles in the play, but the impressive curtain call is an unbroken line of 20 uniformed actors—members of the court, guards, orderlies and revelers at a particularly bitter victory party after the verdict comes in. Nine of them serve silently, sans dialogue.

“One of the original guys who didn’t have a word,” notes Richards, “was Jim Bumgarner, who became James Garner.” He even went on tour with the cast Charles Laughton directed—Henry Fonda, Lloyd Nolan, John Hodiak—landing in Hollywood.

“I keep thinking what it must have been like to have heard the words that David Schwimmer says so eloquently at the end of the show tonight: ‘As I suppose you all know, I’m a Jew,’” Richards remarks. “I can’t imagine how Henry Fonda said that.

“What Herman said at the end when he dedicated this play to the boys fighting the war in Iraq, I thought it was such a true and apolitical statement,” says Richards. ”When this play first came out—when you came back from serving in the last great good war that we were involved in—there was the G.I. Bill of Rights. The American soldier was embraced, and he was able to get into the work force very easily. It was a different era. Women were not part of the work force then. Minorities were not part of the work force at certain levels then because of so much discrimination. Nowadays, the boys who fight the wars in Iraq are giving up three or four years and they can never catch up. That’s what, I think, he’s saying. They are putting themselves in the line of fire for us, and we need to respect them. This is a play that will certainly bring up a lot of discussion about betrayal and loyalty.”

Prominent among the Court-Martial spectators: "The West Wing’"s Richard Schiff who has come East to build a stage career, starting small (like Underneath the Lentil at the George Street Playhouse) toward his Broadway debut (“I was sticking my toes in the water, but I’m going to dive in head-first sometime soon”), "Rosemary’s Baby" author Ira Levin (revealing there’s a revival of his long-running Deathtrap in the works), composer Richard Adler (enjoying his second and, happily, current Pajama Game smash), four-time-Tony-winner-fresh-from-those-Carnegie-cheers Audra McDonald, Tovah Feldshuh, who’ll be sparring with Walter Charles in the Paper Mill Playhouse’s Hello, Dolly! July 7-July 25, Awake and Sing’s Zoe Wanamaker, Tony winner Richard Easton, director Walter Bobbie (currently readying the workshop of High Fidelity, with Will Chase in the John Cusack role, for a press preview May 10), Democracy’s Richard Thomas and Tarzan’s Shuler Hensley with wives, Fran Drescher, one of the Lortel-bound Some Girl(s), with lawyer Mark Sendroff, half of the Jersey Boys (J. Robert Spencer and Christian Huff), one of the Little Women (Megan McGinnis) with—poor thing—Sweeney Todd (Michael Cerveris), Jill Clayburgh with daughter Lily Rabe, "Adaptation"’s Judy Greer with “Boston Public”’s Joey Slotnick and the DuBois sisters from the D.C. Streetcar (Patricia Clarkson and Amy Ryan).

Clarkson, who originated “the Julia Roberts role” in the original 1997 go-around of Three Days of Rain, is pretty deep into her movie career these days. “I’m about to do a really beautiful film,” she trills. “I just got cast in it. It’s called `Marriage,' and it’s me, Chris Cooper, Pierce Brosnan and Rachel McAdams. I play Chris’ wife. It’s a quartet thing, and it takes place in the 1940s. Ira Sachs, who co-wrote it, will be the director.”

Hamish Linklater, who plays Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ brother on “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” is in an opposite holding pattern than Clarkson while he waits to see if he will be returning to TV. “Anytime back on the boards is proper use of my time,” he reasons. “I did this play Cyclone at Michael Imperioli’s theatre, Studio Dante, which closed a few weeks ago, and now I’m doing The Busy World Is Hushed at Playwrights Horizons with Christine Lahti. She’s fantastic—formidable. I play a young writer who helps her write about a newly discovered gospel. She’s a minister in the Episcopalian church.”

The Schoenfeld wasn’t a tough commute for Rachel York (who merely crossed the street from her Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with her producer-beau, Ayal Miodovnik) or for Martin Moran (who simply came around the corner from Spamalot with a NYU student from his hometown of Denver, Zach Lane, making his first Broadway opening night). “I’m here supporting my friend Geoffrey, and Zeljko I’ve known for years,” says Moran. “It’s fun to see them in those parts. Geoffrey’s always great—and a beautiful playwright.”

Two coming or going to Second Stage another block west were Eric Bogosian and Kate Burton. He was Greenwald in Robert Altman’s 1988 CBS movie version of The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial and will have his 1994 subUrbia revived there by his wife, Some Girl(s) director Jo Bonney, Sept. 6. Burton is currently rehearsing Theresa Rebeck’s The Water’s Edge with Tony Goldwyn and Mamie Gummer for a Second Stage premiere June 15. Burton’s hubby, Michael Ritchie, has only been running the Ahmanson and Mark Taper Forum less than a year, and already he’s starting to look like a movie star. “I know, Sam Rockwell just said that to him,” beams Mrs. Ritchie, who’s juggling rehearsals and playing an intense game of catch-up as a Tony nominator. “Every night I’m out. But it’s often very inspiring. How great was that Zeljko! Michael stage-managed the John Rubinstein revival of this show at Circle in the Square and said this was the best he’d ever seen—including Humphrey Bogart in the movie version.”

(Not everybody is of that opinion. Maurice Joseph Micklewhite, for instance. He decided to become an actor because of Bogart’s performance (an Oscar-nominated one, and the last of Bogie’s best) so he got Michael out his last name and Caine from the USS Caine.) Also ubiquitous, making the last-minute rounds of shows as a member of the Tony nominating committee (but finding little among the Sardi’s bill of fare for her vegetarian palate), was Dana Ivey. “I’m also here for Terry [Beaver, who heads the court-martial court],” she says. “We worked together in Atlanta, and I’m the person who got him up here for The Last Night of Ballyhoo." [They played brother and sister in Alfred Uhry’s Tony-winning Best Play of 1997.] “I’m glad he made the choice to stay. He’s done well.”

Clayburgh was marveling at the new second-story layout at Sardi's—a new exposed view of theatregoers roaming up and down West 45th Street, the most Broadway street in the city. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen this because I’m mostly downstairs, but this is beautiful. Having the party at Sardi’s is a real throwback. This is where I grew up—Sardi’s.”

She’s winding down from back-to-back Broadway comebacks— A Naked Girl on the Appian Way at the American Airlines Theatre and Barefoot in the Park finishing up May 21 at the Cort. “I’m going to do a ‘Nip/Tuck’ next, and I’ve a movie coming out, `Running With Scissors.' I have a great part. It’s not a fully realized part in the book, but it’s better in the movie. I’m Augusten Burroughs’ adopted mother. You’ve not seen me do anything like this. You’ll see it and you’ll come up to me at a party and go ‘JILL!!!’ You will!”

Into My Life’s Christopher J. Hanke says he still doesn’t know who the Johnny Depp will be that he’ll menace in the musical version of Cry-Baby—casting is in its final throes. “There’s a lot of movement, though. We’re about to do a workshop in a couple of weeks—in June. John Waters [writer-director of the 1990 film] is one of the creative consultants and kinda overseeing it all. Mark Brokaw is directing. We’ve worked together a couple of times now, and I think he’s just pretty spot-on. Tom Meehan and Mark O’Donnell are doing the book, together again after Hairspray. Rob Ashford is choreographing.”

Now that he has settled The Lieutenant of Inishmore into the Lyceum with some solid notices, producer Randall L. Wreghitt is up for The Great Game, which he and partner Chase Mishkin will be taking out of town after the first of the year.

Producer Hal Luftig is sitting pretty with two shows on the pipeline— The Times They Are A-Changing, Twyla Tharp’s interpretation of Bob Dylan tunes as a coming-of-age story, and Legally Blonde, director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell’s musicalization of the Reese Witherspoon film comedy. Michael Arden, Thom Sesma, Jenn Colella and Justin Bohon head the Tharp project—plus “there was a whole cast from our Old Globe production that she is now looking at as she restructures. We go into rehearsals in August, and we begin previews at the Atkinson in September and open there, I think, Oct. 26. The workshop on Legally Blonde happens right away, on the 19th and 20th. Jerry’s going to be very big. You know what surprises me? As a director, he gets storytelling. It’s not just about the dance. He’s, like, ‘Why is this character doing this?’ and ‘Where are they are going?’ He gets it. So it’s exciting to have two shows next season. Then, after Blonde opens, you can visit me in the hospital.”

The cast gives their opening night curtain call.
The cast gives their opening night curtain call. Photo by Aubrey Reuben
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