“The Country House” Closes on Broadway

A Limited, but Extended, Run

country houseOn September 9, 2014, The Country House began previews at the Manhattan Theatre Club’s Broadway venue, the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. The show had its official opening on October 2, 2014. Yesterday, November 23, 2014, the show played its final performance of the run. Though the show opened to mixed reviews and consistently brought in less than remarkable results at the box office, it extended from its originally announced closing date of November 9, 2014. If this were a normal commercial Broadway production mounted by independent commercial producers, then the show would have been likely to close early, rather than to extend. However, as MTC has a unique advantage by being a not-for-profit theatre institution with the capacity to produce on Broadway, it is able to rely on its endowment as well as its base of subscribers to sell a certain number of tickets, as well as to float through financial losses. The only other organization that rivals MTC in this advantage is the Roundabout Theatre Company, which has three venues on Broadway: the American Airlines Theatre, Studio 54, and the Stephen Sondheim Theatre.

Blythe Danner as Anna Patterson

In The Country House, Blythe Danner stars as a woman named Anna Patterson, a glamorous actress who is frustrated by the tensions ofcountry house a play she is in at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in rural Massachusetts. The play is written by Donald Margulies, an MTC regular whose past works have included Time Stands Still, Brooklyn Boy, and Sight Seen. The director was Daniel Sullivan, who has helmed such Broadway productions as The Snow Geese, Orphans, Glengarry Glen Ross, The Columnist, and The Merchant of Venice. Starring alongside Blythe Danner were Kate Jennings Grant (The Lyons), Eric Lange, David Rasche (To Be or Not To Be, Getting and Spending), Sarah Steele (Off-Broadway’s Russian Transport), and Daniel Sunjata (Macbeth, Cyrano de Bergerac). The play transferred to Broadway after a successful run at Los Angeles’ Geffen Playhouse where its world premiere occurred on June 11, 2014. Almost the entire cast, including Danner, traveled with the show from LA to New York.

A Semi-Flop, But Good Enough

It is a sad state of the industry that a play that receives consistently mediocre reviews can still be produced on Broadway, simply due to the experience of the writer and director, as shepherded by an established theatre institution, as well as the simple name of one famous actor headlining the cast. In this case, Donald Margulies has had some great successes, but The Country House is not truly one of them. However, an organization like MTC would rather turn to a tried and true writer with an uninteresting new play, believing they can satisfy their subscriber base and continue to appear cutting edge. However, the reality is that it is the least innovative approach the organization can take, and they are faced with their own kind of internal bureaucracy. It appears that it is actually up to independent producers to blaze through the established norms to try out daring productions such as The River and One Man, Two Guvnors, which manage to fly on their own merits.

“The Country House” Opens on Broadway

Mixed to Negative Reviews

country houseOn October 2, 2014, The Country House opened at the Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Broadway Theatre. It had been running in preview performances since September 9, 2014. Starring Blythe Danner as Anna Patterson, a leading lady at the Williamstown Theater Festival, this new play by Donald Margulies (Time Stands Still, Brooklyn Boy, Dinner With Friends) premiered at Los Angeles’ Geffen Playhouse this past summer before transferring to Broadway. Critics were much less taken with this Broadway production in the big leagues than they seemed to have been in Los Angeles, as no reviewer gave it a rave. Ben Brantley of The New York Times praised the performance of Danner, but outed it as a flimsy script relying on the leading lady to sell its tickets. Marliyn Stasio in Variety said the play, just as its characters accused each other of being, is not interesting enough. Adam Feldman in Time Out New York called it “safe,” and declared it a much less successful Chekhov homage than last season’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang. David Finkle in The Huffington Post did not like the play at all, saying that it falls far short of the emotional and dramaturgical level of Chekhov.

Shepherded by the Manhattan Theatre Club

Donald Margulies has long been championed by one of New York’s most esteemed not-for-profit theatre institutions: the Manhattan Theatre Club. Though many of his works have received recognition far beyond the sphere of this circle, this has propelled his career and granted him a degree of access that most playwrights covet. Margulies’ first Broadway production was 1994’s What’s Wrong With This Picture?, which was a commercial production, but his next show on the Great White Way was 2004’s Sight Unseen, playing at MTC’s Biltmore Theatre. This launched a string of productions by MTC of Margulies’ work, including Brooklyn Boy (2005), Time Stands Still (2010), Collected Stories (2010), and now The Country House – and these are just his Broadway productions. As MTC is supported by an endowment from its subscribers, it can take much greater risks with the shows it chooses to produce than most Broadway producers can tackle; sometimes this leads to artistic ingenuity, but other times it leads to boring choices of not the best work by playwrights with whom MTC has a longstanding relationship. Unfortunately, The Country House seems to be the latter.

Cast and Creative Team

This production is directed by Daniel Sullivan, who also has a longstanding relationship with MTC. His productions with the theatre blythe dannercompany include Sharr White’s The Snow Geese (2013) starring Mary-Louise Parker, David Auburn’s The Columnist (2012) starring John Lithgow, David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People (2011) starring Frances McDormand, and also Donald Margulies’ 2010 production of Time Stands Still starring Eric Bogosian and Alicia Silverstone. In addition the Blythe Danner, the cast includes Kate Jennings Grant (The Lyons, Guys and Dolls), David Rasche (To Be or Not To Be, Getting and Spending), Sarah Steele (Off-Broadway’s Russian Transport), Daniel Sunjata (Macbeth, Cyrano de Bergerac), and Eric Lange (ABC’s Lost). Scenic design is by John Lee Beatty, lighting is by Peter Kaczorowski, sound is by Obadiah Eaves, and costume design is by Rita Ryack. The production does not have a scheduled closing date, but it is likely to play for the duration of the fall season.

“The Country House” Begins Previews on Broadway

A New Play By Donald Margulies

country houseOn September 9, 2014, the first preview commenced for Donald Margulies’ new play The Country House.  The play is scheduled to officially open on October 2, 2014.  Directed by Daniel Sullivan (The Snow Geese, Orphans), this is the newest work by the masterful playwright behind the Pulitzer Prize winning Dinner With Friends and the Tony Award for Best Play nominated Time Stands Still.  The world premiere of The Country House took place at Los Angeles’ Geffen Playhouse between June 10 and July 20, 2014, where it received excellent reviews.  The play is inspired by Chekhov’s The Seagull, the story concerns a group of actors gathered in a Berkshire house for the summer season of the Williamstown Theater Festival.  The drama of this actor family spilled off the page and into their very real lives, and we are given a glimpse into the offstage drama of the world’s oldest profession.

A Manhattan Theater Club Production

The play is running at the Manhattan Theater Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on West 47th Street in the Broadway district.  Of the six productions that Margulies has now had on Broadway, the last five of them have been produced by Manhattan Theater Club.  The last three (including The Country House) went up at the Friedman Theatre; the others are April 2010’s Collected Stories and January 2010’s Time Stands Still, which then transferred to the commercial venue of Broadway’s Cort Theatre.  Previously, MTC also supported Margulies with two of his other plays: 2005’s Brooklyn Boy and 2004’s Sight Unseen, both of which went up at the Biltmore Theatre.  Margulies’ first work to be produced on Broadway was 1994’s What’s Wrong With This Picture?  In addition to being a working playwright, Margulies is a professor at the Yale School of Drama.

A Superb Cast

The show stars Blythe Danner as Anna Patterson.  Danner, who is well known for her screen appearances in such roles as Will’s blythe danner country housemother Marilyn on television’s Will & Grace, as well as the film series Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers, and Little Fockers.  Furthermore, Danner has recently appeared onstage in the Manhattan Theatre Club Off-Broadway production of The Commons of Pensacola opposite Sarah Jessica Parker.  On Broadway she has performed in many productions including Nice Work If You Can Get It, Follies, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Blithe Spirit.  In The Country House, she is joined by Daniel Sunjata (Cyrano de Bergerac, Take Me Out), Eric Lange (television’s Victorious and Lost), Kate Jennings Grant (The Lyons, Guys and Dolls), David Rasche (To Be or Not to Be, Speed the Plow), and Sarah Steele (Off-Broadway’s Russian Transport and Slowgirl).

Broadway Performers Participate in Special Our Town Reading

Blythe Danner

Blythe Danner

Several Broadway singers and actors have signed on to perform in a one-night-only reading of Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Our Town as a fundraiser for The Actors Fund. The reading, which commemorates the 75th anniversary of Wilder’s beloved drama, will take place at John Jay College’s Gerald R. Lynch Theatre on March 4.

Blythe Danner, Rebecca Luker, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Adriane Lenox, B.D. Wong, Julia Murney, and Martin Moran are among the talented Broadway performers who will take part in the Our Town reading. Peter Flynn will serve as director.

Tickets to the Our Town benefit are priced at $75, $100, and $150. To buy tickets, call 212-221-7300 ext. 133 or go to www.actorsfund.org. The Actors Fund is dedicated to helping both performers and behind-the-scenes personnel who work in entertainment and the performing arts.