PLAYBILL THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Oct. 6-12: Douglas Hodge and Mary McCann Are Critics' Darlings
By Robert Simonson
The top English-language playwrights of all time are regular visitors on Broadway. Shakespeare, Shaw, Wilde, Coward, all fairly common sights. But you can count the classic French dramatists who consistently appear on the Rialto on a digit or two. Moliere? Not since Circle in the Square went belly up. Racine? Stuff for BAM, and then only occasionally. Feydeau? Farce is hard, and, in a foreign tongue, even harder. Corneille? Please.
Edmond Rostand will always have a home in Times Square. Since he wrote Cyrano de Bergerac in 1897, the play has been done on Broadway 16 times. And twice more as a musical! Unrequited love; swashbuckling; a guy with a big nose and a bigger ego — Americans can relate to all of these. (That the famous story has been filmed a few times helps.)
The last time Broadway saw the play was in 2007, when Kevin Kline took on the title role. A mere five years later, it's back, with English actor Douglas Hodge donning the fake proboscis. Jamie Lloyd directs the Roundabout Theatre Company production. (Somewhat surprisingly, this is the first time the safe and steady Roundabout has mounted the show on Broadway.)
According to the New York Times, Hodge was reason enough to revive the play. "This gale force has a name, Douglas Hodge, and it is inhabiting, enlivening and almost exploding the title character," wrote the paper. "Mr. Hodge is as light and oxygenating as air, even as the pure physical impact of his performance sets you reeling." However, there's a downside to a barnstorming star: "That old ennui crept up on me whenever Mr. Hodge wasn't onstage. Mercifully, that's only a small fraction of the production." The AP thought the production too long, but said, "This production may be a tad overdone, overstuffed and overwrought at times, but it has something that Cyrano himself considered one of the most important things in the world. It has panache." Some found Lloyd's approach too "pedal to the metal," underplaying the poetry and solemn moments in the text. Wrote the Wall Street Journal: "Mr. Hodge gets what Cyrano is all about, and in its quiet moments his performance is deeply moving — but there aren't enough of them. Not only is Jamie Lloyd's staging as noisy as a concert by a band of jackhammers, but the Roundabout's production makes use of a boisterous new rhyming translation by Ranjit Bolt that updates the play's language to inconsistent effect." Echoed Variety: "A lack of restraint spoils the fun, making it all seem too big (Cyrano's honker), too much (stomping on tables), and over the top (Douglas Hodge's star turn)."
No one flinched when the producers of Nora Ephron's upcoming Broadway play Lucky Guy confirmed that Tom Hanks would star in the thing. As beloved as the recently deceased Ephron was, there was little chance that her dramatization of the life of late New York Post writer Mike McAlary would arrive on the big stage without the Oscar-winning actor topping the bill. Lucky Guy will begin previews March 1, 2013, at the Broadhurst Theatre.
Also coming to Broadway in 2013 is Eric Coble's new two-character play The Velocity of Autumn. The news came as a bit of a head-scratcher, coming out of the blue and with a remote pedigree. Coble's biggest credit to date is Bright Things, which played Off-Broadway's MCC Theater a few years back. The stars — Estelle Parsons and Stephen Spinella — are talented and experienced, but are they box-office bait? The director, Molly Smith, artistic director of Arena Stage in Washington, DC, will be making her Broadway debut. The production will also mark the first time a play that had its world premiere at Boise Contemporary Theater in Idaho has traveled all the way to Broadway. If this is the first you're heard that Boise has a theatre company, you're not alone. (But, then, folks like Smith are major champions of resident theatre — she ran Perseverance Theatre in Alaska for years before ascending to Arena, an original and major jewel in the crown of the nation's regional theatre movement.)
The Velocity of Autumn centers on 80-year-old Alexandra, an artist facing the indignities of old age and her family's insistence on moving her to a nursing home. With nothing to lose, she locks herself in her Brooklyn brownstone with a pile of Molotov cocktails and incites a standoff with her children and the police.
Every now and then, if they work long enough, a journeyman actor gets a review like this: "Ms. McCann, a founding member of the Atlantic is quite a bit more. In the nearly 20 years I've followed her work, I've always thought of her as a fine, eminently reliable actress. But nothing she has done previously prepared me for the blazing conviction and centeredness of this performance."
That choice piece of praise came from the New York Times, which was reviewing Harper Regan, a play by Simon Stephens starring McCann in the title role of a woman who walks away from her home and family. McCann is, indeed, one of the mainstays of the Atlantic Theater Company's stable of actors. And she has always been a solid, but never flashy presence. The critics, even when they didn't care for the play, found much to praise here. "McCann can play both raw and vulnerable," wrote Entertainment Weekly, "as well as impulsive and self-defeating, and her face is a remarkable roadmap of her character's emotional wanderings." And the Daily News observed, "McCann’s rock-solid performance as a woman who’s anything but goes a long way toward keeping us engrossed. There’s something wonderful in the calm she brings to the role, even when Harper is at her most out-there."
Film star Jake Gyllenhaal has found success in his American stage debut. The U.S. premiere of Nick Payne's humor-kissed dysfunctional-family drama If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet, at Roundabout Theatre Company's Off-Broadway home at the Laura Pels Theatre, will extend an extra two weeks following a hiatus. The limited run, which was originally scheduled to run through Nov. 25 only, will take a 12-day break before resuming performances on Dec. 8 and play two additional weeks through Dec. 23. Tony nominee Enid Graham (Honour) joins the cast Oct. 23, playing a harried mom whose marriage to an academic is on the rocks.
Complete casting was announced for The Public Theater's world premiere of Nathan Englander's The Twenty-Seventh Man. Among the ensemble is a trio of estimable players: Byron Jennings, Chip Zien and Ron Rifkin, a one-time regular presence on the New York stage who is now but rarely seen. The play will begin previews Nov. 7 in the Martinson Theater with an official opening Nov. 18.
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