December 2007 Theatre Column
December 1, 2007
Stage Hand Strike
November 10, 2007
Photo Credit Angelo Rivera
The stage hand strike
that shuttered twenty-six Broadway shows for nineteen
days during the busiest Broadway season finally
seems to be over. The Broadway Stage Hand Unions
Local 1 and the League of American Theaters and
Producers have reached a settlement and it is none
Most of the shows
have now reopened/opened except The Farnsworth
Invention (opens December 3, 2007) and The
Little Mermaid (in previews, opens January
10, 2008), whose openings were delayed by the strike.
Last month I saw
three shows: Cyrano; The Rise of Dorothy
Hale and The Farsnworth Invention.
Cyrano stars Kevin Kline, Jennifer Garner
and Daniel Sunjata and is running through December
23rd at the Richard Rogers Theater at 226 West 46th
Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue. All three
stars give superb performances, especially Kline
who is now circling the planet in the Barrymore
constellation. Jennifer Garner definitely holds
her own, playing Roxanne to Kline's Cyrano. The
show is beautifully staged and the only caveat that
I have is that it is Cyrano, a classical
play that lasts about three and a half
hours, so you might want to think twice about taking
children. For more information, log onto: cyranoonbroadway.com.
Courtesy of the Phoenix
Then it was on to
Myra Bairstow’s The Rise of Dorothy Hale
at St. Luke's Theatre on Theater Row. Hale tells
the story of the beautiful thirty-three-year-old
Dorothy Hale, the widow of the muralist Gardner
Hale, who supposedly committed suicide on October
21, 1938 by jumping from the 16th floor of Central
Park South's Hampshire House.
The story of Hale
is utterly fascinating and the painting that Frida
Kahlo did of the jump, showing both Hale falling
and lying broken-but-beautiful on the ground is
stunning. I could not stop staring at the copy of
the painting displayed in the lobby of the theater.
It was like a train wreck; I could not look away.
The playwright, Myra
Bairstow, wrote notes for the program in which she
tells of her fascination with the painting (now
on display at the Phoenix Art Museum) and how the
painting drew her in and inspired her to investigate
what really happened to Hale.
Hale (played by Laura
Koffman) was one of the "it" girls of
her day. She was: the supposed girlfriend of President
Roosevelt's advisor and perhaps successor, Harry
Hopkins (played by Mark La Mura); a friend of Clare
Booth Luce (played by Dina Ann Comolli); an acquaintance
of Frida Kahlo (played by Purva Bedi); the idol
of her doorman Frank (played by Frank deLuca); and
perhaps the lover of Times Reporter Mitch Davenport
(played by Patrick Boll).
The cover story of
the day was that Hale committed suicide because
she was broke and rejected by Hopkins and that these
were the reasons stated in her suicide note that
that was supposedly found by Hale's friend Luce.
In the note, Hale supposedly asked Luce to notify
her mother. Luce then commissioned a painting of
Hale from Kahlo that Luce intended to give to Hale's
mother and when Luce saw the painting that Kahlo
produced, she was so horrified that she hid it
for thirty years. This is a fine story, except for
one small detail - Dorothy Hale's mother died when
Dorothy was a child. So if there was no mother,
was there a note and was there a suicide? And why
would Luce lie?
The play is eerie
and beautiful. Koffman as the gorgeous ethereal
Hale and Bedi as the passionate and feisty Kahlo
give stunning performances. I was continually reminded
of Otto Preminger's 1944 film Laura in
mood. But this play is more surreal than the film;
one of the main characters is the now-dead Hale,
who enters the room unseen by the other actors to
narrate her own story.
This play is haunting.
And I am not the only one who is spellbound by the
play. I have received several (mass produced) emails
from John Travolta and Kelly Preston urging me to
drop everything and go see Hale. I am now passing
on the message.
The very talented
cast of Hale includes: Purva Bedi; Patrick Boll;
Dina Ann Comolli; Matthew Cowles; Laura Koffman;
and Mark LaMura. Hale has an open run on Monday,
Wednesday and Saturday @ 8 PM. Matinees are Wednesday
@ 2PM & Saturday & Sunday @ 3PM at the St.
Luke's Theatre at 308 West 46th Street between 8th
and 9th Avenues. For tickets
at 212/239-6200. For additional information,
The Farnsworth Invention
I originally saw
The Farnsworth Invention when it was in
previews before the strike and could not write anything
about it until after it officially opened (post-strike)
on December 3, 2007. Farnsworth was scripted by
West Wing scribe Aaron Sorkin, directed
by Des McAnuff (Jersey Boys) and stars
Hank Azaria as David Sarnoff and Jimmi Simpson as
Philo T. Farnsworth.
Philo T. Farnsworth
was a boy genius who drew a mock-up of a vacuum
tube television set while he was a ninth grader
in rural Idaho. Farnsworth then found financing
for his invention and set up a motley-crewed lab
in Seattle where he worked to develop the first
television. Meanwhile, back in New York, David Sarnoff,
who is helming what was to become NBC, is frantically
trying to beat Farnsworth in the race to create
the first television set.
The play is narrated
by Sarnoff and Farnsworth and showcases all of Sorkin's
talent for writing superb dialogue for smart fast-talking
men in business suits.
There is a conflict
in the play; the Sarnoff-headed NBC commits industrial
espionage to steal the naive Farnsworth's trade
secrets. And there is a scene that has some critic's
underwear in a wad - a made up scene where Sarnoff
seemingly tries to make amends to Farnsworth. But
the real brilliance of this play is its study of
the origin of genius. Just how much of our great
inventions are due to hard work and how much just
arrives with the genius' DNA? (We can assume that
Sorkin does not believe that he created his talent
by attending writing classes.)
I really loved this
play and so did everyone I overheard talking about
it as I was leaving the theater. People were even
calling their friends and telling them that they
had just seen the most marvelous play and recommending
that their friends buy tickets. I would like to
do the same by telling you now that Farnsworth
is must see theater.
Farnsworth is playing
at the Music Box Theatre at 239 West 45th Street,
New York, NY 10036. Tickets are $51.50-$101.50 at
212-239-6200 or 800-432-7250 or telecharge.com.
For more information, log onto
I am apending my
previous theater columns that cover what was then
the coming Broadway season:
It looks like the Writers Guild will
definitely go out on strike (as we all now know,
it did). But this rumbling out of California is
only benefiting the fall theater line up. Chazz
Palminteri is opening his one man show, A Bronx
Tale, at the Walter Kerr Theater. Kevin Kline
and Golden Globe winner Jennifer Garner will star
in a new production of Cyrano de Bergerac
at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, running October
12th - December 23rd. Randy Quaid will be starring
in his first Broadway show, Lone Star Love,
which opens for preview on November 1, 2007 at the
Belasco Theater. And Claire Danes will star in Pygmalion,
which will run October 11, 2007 - December 16, 2007
at the American Airlines Theatre.
Tom Stoppard's Rock & Roll
One other notable show that will be
opening this fall is Tom Stoppard's Rock &
starring Rufus Sewell, Sinead Cox and Brian Cox
- all from the original London cast. Stoppard has
always been a brilliantly subversive playwright.
And his talents first shone on Broadway forty years
ago with his first Broadway production when he turned
Hamlet on its ear in Rosencrantz
and Guildenstern are Dead.
One play that I am sure to catch is
Tracy Lett's August:
Osage County which begins previews on October
30th and opens November 20th for an open run at
the Imperial Theatre after a sold out run at Chicago's
Steppenwolf Theater. Letts is the Pulitzer price
nominated playwright (for Man from Nebraska)
of Bug, which I reviewed when it ran three
years ago at the Barrow Street Theater. Bug
was subsequently made into a movie starring
Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon (from the Off Broadway
production). See my June
theater column for more about Bug.
Bug was wonderful so August: Osage County
is definitely makes my short list.
Disney's The Little Mermaid
Also, believe it or not, The
Little Mermaid (thelittlemermaid)
is another not-to-be-missed show hitting Broadway.
Mermaid has a book by Douglas Wright, the
playwright who won the Pulitzer Prize for I
Am My Own Wife, a play about an East German
transvestite. Just as playwright Douglas Carter
Beane (The Little Dog Laughed) was able
to turn Xanadu into a delicious campy feast,
with Wright as the playwright, Mermaid
should be truly enjoyable for the entire family
and not just a treat for Brownie-troupes-on-a-field-trip.
And from my August Theater Column:
Fall will soon be here and there
is a plethora of interesting new shows opening on
Broadway. Here are three that caught my eye:
The Farnsworth Invention
(of West Wing fame) has penned a new play,
The Farnsworth Invention, which is opening
on November 4, 2007 at the Music Box Theater. The
show tells the story of the invention of television.
Now I am a West Wing junkie (I have all
the first four Sorkin years DVD's) and I really
tried to love Studio 60, so I am truly
psched to see this new play. Log onto farnsworthonbroadway.com
for more information about the play.
The Producers may have
closed on Broadway but another one of Mel Brook’s
campy movie classics, Young Frankenstein,
is coming to Broadway, opening on November 8, 2007
at the Hilton Theatre. Now I just know this one
is going to be fun and nothing like the other monster
fiasco, Frank Wildhorn’s Dracula.
for more information about this show.
Lone Star Love
And last, Randy Quaid is starring
in Lone Star Love, a musical retelling
of Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor.
Lone Star is opening December 2, 2007 at
the Belasco Theater. I saw Lone Star Love
when it played off-Broadway back in February of
2005 and featured it in this column.
It was a lot of fun and has the potential to be
a hit on Broadway (you certainly can’t fault
the plot). Log onto lonestarlovethemusical.com
for more information about the show.
For information on all the Broadway
shows, log onto our Broadway
theater listing section.