“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).

Annette Bening joins John Lithgow in “King Lear”

The Storied Past of Shakespeare in the Park

Ever since 1961, when theatrical impresario Joseph Papp famously convinced New York City parks commissioner Robert Moses to build an outdoor amphitheater in Central Park, the Public Theater has produced the annual New York Shakespeare Festival, also known as Shakespeare in the Park, at the Delacorte Theatre.  Renowned for its unusual combination of free tickets for all, as well as highly acclaimed productions often starring household names, this outdoor festival is a rare treat for New York theatregoers.  This year, the Festival has two productions: Much Ado about Nothing and King Lear.  Though the Festival does not always feature exclusively Shakespeare, it generally has two productions in the series, and this year they are both by the Bard.  The last time that King Lear was a production of this Festival was in 1973.  Much Ado about Nothing, on the other hand, has been staged at the Delacorte three times before, most recently in 2004.

shakespeare in the park delacorte theatreJohn Lithgow Headlines King Lear

It was announced several weeks ago that King Lear, which begins performances on July 22, 2014 and runs until August 17, 2014, will star John Lithgow in the title role.  Lithgow was last seen in Shakespeare in the Park in 1975, when he played Laertes in Hamlet.  He is also well known for his work on television shows such as 3rd Rock from the Sun and Dexter, andhisfilm performances in such movies as Shrek, The World According to Garp, and Terms of Endearment.  Furthermore, he has been seen on Broadway in plays including The Columnist, M. Butterfly, Requiem for a Heavyweight, and the 2008 revival of All My Sons.  At the same time as this lead casting announcement, it was publicized that King Lear will be directed by Daniel Sullivan, who has overseen several productions at Shakespeare in the Park including The Comedy of Errors, Twelfth Night, and The Merchant of Venice, as well as Broadway shows such as Glengarry Glen Ross and The Snow Geese.

Annette Bening Joins The Cast

Recently, an exciting piece of casting news was announced for King Lear.  Annette Bening, who was last seen on Broadway in annette bening1987 in Coastal Disturbances, will play Lear’s eldest daughter Goneril.  Bening has been nominated for four Academy Awards: for her roles in The Grifters, Being Julia, American Beauty, and The Kids Are All Right.  She has also won Golden Globe Awards for her performances in Being Julia and The Kids Are All Right.  Though she has not been since on the New York stage in over 20 years, her career originated in the theatre.  She studied at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, where she played roles including Lady Macbeth.  She also has been seen onstage at the Denver Center Theatre Company, and she has recently performed at Los Angeles’ Geffen Playhouse.  She also received a Tony Award nomination for her role in the Broadway production of Coastal Disturbances.  The other two sisters in King Lear will be played by Jessica Hecht (Regan) and Jessica Collins (Cordelia).

King Lear Follows Much Ado About Nothing in Park Season

As for the first of the two productions in Shakespeare in the Park – Much Ado about Nothing – it will star Lily Rabe as Beatrice and Hamish Linklater as Benedick, and it will be directed by Jack O’Brien (The Nance, The Coast of Utopia, Macbeth).  Much Ado about Nothing will begin performances at the Delacorte on June 3, 2014 and will run for five weeks.