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Wendy R. Williams'
December 2007 Theatre Column


 

Greetings Theater Lovers,

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 too soon.

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.

First Cyrano. 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 Art Museum

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 call Telecharge.com at 212/239-6200. For additional information, visit www.dorothyhale.com.


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 farnsworthonbroadway.com.

 


 

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 & Roll (rocknrolltheplay), 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

Aaron Sorkin (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.



Young Frankenstein

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. Log onto
youngfrankensteinthemusical.com 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.

Rock on!

Wendy

 









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