THE BOOK SHELF: Scripts of Once, The Lyons and The Anarchist | Playbill

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Special Features THE BOOK SHELF: Scripts of Once, The Lyons and The Anarchist This month's column looks at the scripts of three recent Broadway attractions, Enda Walsh's Once, Nicky Silver's The Lyons and David Mamet's The Anarchist.

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TCG, also known as Theatre Communications Group, continues its invaluable parade of published plays with three recent Broadway titles. Most important among of the trio is last season's Best Musical winner, Once. This is a unique and very special piece, one that seems to blithely set aside traditional theatre-musical rules and methods yet thrives and blossoms. It is based on the 2006 motion picture of the same title, retaining most of the score written at the time by the pair who also played the leading roles. Atmospheric — if highly emotional — songs that are effective both on screen and stage, but don't exactly tell the story or propel the action. Yet, Once (the musical) works splendidly — and is even stronger on the stage.

Which is to say that the book, by Enda Walsh, is deceptively good. Walsh has retained the songs, more or less, but filled in the story. Mr. Walsh is no librettist; the prolific Irish playwright has more than twenty works to his credit, including Disco Pigs and Misterman. In Once, he adds drama, poetry, and laughter. Mix in the songs by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, the sensitive staging by John Tiffany, the striking movement by choreographer Steven Hoggett, and impeccable design work and you wind up with a warmly romantic and heartily exuberant piece of musical theatre.

But that's the musical, on-stage. Here we talk of Walsh's published script, which seems to be the magical key to the artful transformation from screen to stage.

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Nicky Silver's The Lyons, like Once, made the uptown trek from off-Broadway last season. The results, alas, were not quite so felicitous. Silver knows well how to write funny lines — and funny Lyons, you might say — but the end result was a very funny but not so satisfying evening. There were some who saw this merely as a tailor-made Jewish mother role for the expert Linda Lavin, who gave a typically-expert Linda Lavin performance as a Jewish mother. (She did not have so well-tailored a role in Other Desert Cities, the Broadway transfer of which she skipped in favor of The Lyons. Even so, I found her Silda in the Jon Robin Baitz play richer by far. Over at The Lyons, I felt I was watching a Lavin performance I had seen more than once before.)

The play is strangely contrived, with two hospital room scenes (featuring Linda Lavin as a Jewish mother) bookending an exceedingly odd two-hander between a real estate agent and his creepy customer. This seemed almost like a separate play altogether — from the discarded workbooks of Edward Albee? — except that the creepy customer was the Jewish mother's son.

This real estate one-act — it even has its own title, "Location, Location, Location" — seems like filler, but I'd have to guess that it was in some way the crux of the author's intentions. It sure put things out of kilter, though, and all the jokes Linda Lavin could sling couldn't right it. Silver is a wise playwright, but whatever he had in mind here didn't come across.

So we have a Broadway comedy filled with real laughs — a mighty rare occurrence, nowadays — which turned out not to be enough. Despite Lavin's performance. Let us add that the playscript appends the daughter Julie's extended monologue, delivered at an AA meeting. This opened the second act during the initial run of the play at the Vineyard Theatre, but was deleted up at Broadway's Cort. Also included is an introduction by Silver — it appears to be an alternate version of an article which ran in the New York Times, just after the Broadway opening — that is so charming that you really want to love his play.


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The third of the new TCG trio did not tryout Off-Broadway, regionally or anywhere. So much for fixing plays that need work. David Mamet's The Anarchist opened last month at the newly-renovated Golden and closed quicker than you can say Patti LuPone. (Well, not quicker; sitting through the 70-minute one act, though, you wished — for your sake, and for the actors' sake — that it was over quicker than you could say Patti.) And don't blame the cast — the other player being Debra Winger — either. The play's the thing, and there's the problem. Even so, all was well for Mamet and his producers, who simultaneously had Glengarry Glen Ross selling out two doors down.

(Steven Suskin is author of "Show Tunes" as well as "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," now available in paperback, "Second Act Trouble" and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He also pens's On the Record and The DVD Shelf columns. He can be reached at [email protected])


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