After an autumn of bad shows and worse reviews, good theatre arrived en masse all of a sudden this week. Perhaps it was the critically hailed revival of Sweeney Todd that loosened the plug in the critical dike, or perhaps the insta-hit, crowd-pleaser Jersey Boys. Whatever it was, early December has brought with it good notice after good notice in a flow that one had began to doubt was every possible again.

Christian Hoff in Jersey Boys.
Christian Hoff in Jersey Boys. Photo by Joan Marcus

The reversal of fortune began with Abigail's Party, opened Dec. 1 by The New Group Off-Broadway. In retrospect, this was perhaps not unexpected. Historically, whenever you team British playwright Mike Leigh with American director Scott Elliott, the result is a spellbinding slice of misanthropic naturalism par excellence. An extension to Feb. 11 followed four days afterward.

By that time, the new Signature Theatre Company revival of Horton Foote's best known drama The Trip to Bountiful had opened to a second downpour of praise. Foote and seasoned star Lois Smith were seen by all as a perfect artistic match, and director Harris Yulin was praised for the quiet, emotional power of the production. It, too, only took a few days to extend, in this instance to Feb. 19.

On Dec. 5, then, the Atlantic Theatre Company's double bill of Harold Pinter's earliest play, The Room, and most recent play, Celebration, opened Off-Broadway—just two days, as the new cycle flies, before Pinter delivered a blisteringly anti-American Nobel Prize Acceptance speech. Critics thought the production rightly honored a leading playwright of our age, one who unfortunately is presently confined to a hospital bed. Extension? You betcha. To Jan. 21.

Finally, to complete the week's sweep, O'Neill's masterwork A Touch of the Poet opened at Studio 54 in a version by director Doug Hughes that nearly all heralded as dark, powerful and wrenching, with special kudos going to Gabriel Byrne as tragically deluded innkeeper Con Melody. With this performance and his previous work in A Moon for the Misbegotten, Byrne can now safely stand beside Brian Dennehy as one of the era's leading interpreters of O'Neill.

It's all enough to make you wish they could temporarily shut down the theatre until the new year, so we could all simply bask in the glow of such fine work and greet the coming 2006 with unbridled optimism. ***

Speaking of Pinter, Broadway has a new production of his Homecoming in future. Also expected, in the spring, is R. C. Sheriff’s 1929 World War I drama Journey’s End, which received a 75th anniversary production in London's West End in early 2004. Boyett Ostar Productions will produce.

In other Broadway news, "Friends" star David Schwimmer will make his Broadway debut in the upcoming revival of Herman Wouk's The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial. Schwimmer will play Lt. Barney Greenwald in the courtroom drama, which will begin performances April 14, 2006. Zeljko Ivanek will co-star as Lt. Com. Philip Francis Queeg. Jerry Zaks will direct.

And, further off in the future, "The Year of Magical Thinking," writer Joan Didion's first-person account of the recent death of her husband, and the decline of her daughter, is being converted into a play, to be produced by Scott Rudin and directed by David Hare. Hare said he hopes to do a reading of the work next spring, followed by several workshops and a projected Broadway bow in spring 2007. The piece will be a one-person show, though Didion herself will not star.

Today’s Most Popular News: