It’s a lovely time to be at the theater in New York. Broadway and Off-Broadway have plenty to offer a theater lover right now. For my three-night sojourn in the city I chose three plays (no musicals) for a vivid overview of what’s new and interesting. Here, in brief, is what I saw:
THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG, a hilarious comedy with silly plot and even sillier set of characters the plot is almost as riotous as the performance. The idea is this: an amateur theatricals company in Britain is putting on a classic 1930’s style murder mystery ala Agatha Christie. They have rehearsed it well and this is their opening night. Prior to the show beginning there is a building-wide hunt for a lost dog who should appear in Act Two and a last minute “fix” of the mantelpiece. From that point on, very little goes right for these amateur players and the entire show becomes an incredible shambles. The play actually “quotes” some very famous comedy bits from the silent films and from early talkies. An inexhaustible company plays the mistakes with the outrageous professionalism of an underprepared Equity company. If you don’t laugh at the lines, you will laugh at the slapstick. It was an overwhelmingly enjoyable evening.
That great start was followed the next night by a new play by Susan Miller, directed by Emily Mann, entitled 20th CENTURY BLUES playing at the The Pershing Square Signature Center. A cast of five remarkable women, and a young man who can hold his own in their company, tell the story of four college friends gathering for their annual reunion at the home of professional photographer Danny, played brilliantly by Polly Draper. She has decided to publish the forty years of photographs she has taken of her friends and the idea sparks some lively and conflicted conversation. Danny’s mother, in an assisted living situation, shows up at the party on the arm of her grandson and her alzheimer’s gleams through the difficulties the women face giving the show an amazing and unanticipated twist. The cast includes Beth Dixon, Ellen Parker, Kathryn Grody, Franchelle Stewart Dorn and Charles Socarides.
My final night was spent with Uma Thurman and Josh Lucas at the Hudson Theatre with Beau Willimon’s play THE PARISIAN WOMAN. Directed by Pam MacKinnon this play tackles the modern white house and his incidental influence on the morals of modern Washington. Thurman is a wonderful stage actress with a lot of excellent competition from a superb company including a long-time favorite Blair Brown. “How miniscule and meaningless we are,” is a line from this play which should set up an audience realization of how small and unimportant this play is going to be, but getting around the sexual shenanigans leaves us with the modestly mature vision of modern-day politics and its impact on everything it touches. As Brown’s adult daughter Phillipa Soo drives home the difference between generations and the influence of environment, California vs. Paris. Martin Csokas plays Thurman’s lover, or would-be lover to round out this fascinating play’s equally fascinating cast.
Three nights of excellent and varied theatre you can only see in New York City, on Broadway and on Theatre Row. It is invigorating watching three good plays in three nights without a single “look at me” introduction by a director, an artistic director, or a stand-in. Just very good plays.