“Fool for Love” Begins Previews on Broadway

Manhattan Theatre Club Production of Sam Shepard Play

fool for loveOn September 15, 2015, Fool For Love began previews at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, the Broadway venue of the not-for-profit theatre institution, the Manhattan Theatre Club. The show will officially open on October 8, 2015. The play, written by Sam Shepard, first premiered in 1983 at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco, followed by an Off-Broadway run that same year at the Circle Repertory Theatre followed by the Douglas Fairbanks Theatre, where the cast included the likes of Bruce Willis early in his career, as well as Ellen Barkin who rehearsed but never performed the role due to an injury. The show then played the National Theatre in London in 1984, as well as a West End production in 2006. This is the first time the show has played on Broadway. This production, directed by Daniel Aukin, first premiered at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts in the summer of 2014. Following excellent reception, the show is transferring to Broadway with the same lead cast: Nina Arianda as May, and Sam Rockwell as Eddie. The supporting cast is Tom Pelphrey in the role of Martin, and Gordon Joseph Weiss in the role of the Old Man. This is the Broadway directorial debut for Daniel Aukin, who has been building his career Off-Broadway for many years with such shows as 4000 Miles.

fool for loveStar Crossed Casting of Nina Arianda and Sam Rockwell

When Fool for Love was set for production at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in July 2014, the original casting was Chris Pine and Lauren Ambrose. However, both of them pulled out with just a month to go before performances. It was then that Arianda and Rockwell were cast in the show, and had only a month to rehearse. However, both actors admit that these roles have been on their minds for a long time, and their chance to portray them was as if star crossed good fortune. Nina Arianda came to fame after portraying the role of Vanda in David Ives’ Venus in Fur, first Off-Broadway and then in the Broadway transfer, just a year after completing her degree at New York University. She also was nominated for a Tony Award for her starring role in Born Yesterday. Her familiarity with Sam Shepard’s work dates back to age 12, when she saw a local production of Shepard’s play True West and wanted to appear in this part ever since. Sam Rockwell is well known for his film roles in such movies as Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Iron Man 2, and he, too, has long been interested in playing this part in Sam Shepard’s play. They were both very star struck when they shook the playwright’s hand moments before performing the play for him for the first time.

A Controversial Manhattan Theatre Club Season

This production of a play by Sam Shepard, a male playwright, comes on the wake of significant controversy over the selection of plays by Lynne Meadow, the artistic director of the Manhattan Theatre Club. When seven of the eight plays of the season were announced, all were by male playwrights, including this one, Fool for Love, and the only female director announced was Lynne herself, at the helm of a Richard Greenberg play. However, though the contracts had not all been signed yet, Meadow rushed to alert the press that the eighth and as yet unannounced play would be by a female playwright, Penelope Skinner, and that director, as yet unconfirmed, would likely be Lila Neugebauer. Nevertheless, the productions are all going ahead as planned, and Fool for Love is starting the season off with an exciting production.

“The Ruins of Civilization” Added to MTC Season

Amidst Criticism That The Season Lacked Diversity

The Ruins of Civilization will be a world premiere Manhattan Theatre Club production in spring 2016. It is written a British playwright named Penelope Skinner, whose previous plays include The Village Bike (staged at MCC last year), Fred’s Diner, and Eigengrau. Skinner has received several awards for promising young playwrights, and she recently co-wrote the screenplay to the feature film How I Live Now.

Penelope Skinner

Penelope Skinner

However, the buzz about the announcement of her world premiere at MTC was not focused on her precocious accomplishments; rather, it has been squarely aimed at the discussion of how she is a woman. The reason is that Lynne Meadow, the artistic director of the Manhattan Theatre Club, had previously announced seven of the eight plays of their 2015 to 2016 season, all seven of which are written by white men. This was revealed in a post last week in American Theatre Magazine. There was immediate outcry online, with prominent playwright Paula Vogel tweeting “for a woman in theatre who attended Bryn Mawr, where is your sisterhood?” Then the playwright Kristoffer Diaz followed up with a tweet that said he would love to discuss strategies for approaching the goal stated in MTC’s mission to produce works “as diverse as NYC itself.”

Nonetheless, An Excellent MTC Season of Accomplished Playwrights

Lynne Meadow

Lynne Meadow

Manhattan Theatre Club produces both Broadway and Off-Broadway. Their Broadway season will kick off with Sam Shepherd’s 1983 play Fool for Love at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, starring Sam Rockwell and Nina Arianda. That play is directed by Daniel Aukin, who staged a rendition at last summer’s Williamstown Theatre Festival. The next Broadway show at the Friedman Theatre, which will open in January 2016, is Richard Greenberg’s play Our Mother’s Brief Affair, directed by Lynne Meadow and starring Linda Lavin. In April 2016, MTC will produce a Broadway production of Florian Zeller’s new play The Father, starring Frank Langella in a production directed by Doug Hughes. The Off-Broadway offerings, presented at New York City Center Stages I and II, include Ripcord by David Lindsay-Abaire directed by David Hyde Pierce and starring Holland Taylor, Rachel Dratch, and Marylouise Burke; Important Hats of the 20th Century by Nick Jones and directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel; John Patrick Shanley’s new play Prodigal Son, directed by Shanley and starring Robert Sean Leonard; and Nick Payne’s play Incognito.

Two of the Eight Plays are Directed by Women

The recent announcement of Penelope Skinner’s The Ruins of Civilization was made in haste due to the backlash, and the director has not yet been fully confirmed, but it is slated to be Lila Neugebauer. Skinner declared she felt strongly that a woman was best to direct this play. The only other female director of the season is Lynne Meadow herself, who is to direct Richard Greenberg’s Our Mother’s Brief Affair. It is an unfortunate coincidence that the season came together with all white playwrights and only one woman. In the past four seasons, 43% of the plays were written by women and people of color. Over the past ten years, there have been three seasons at MTC where no playwrights were female, but in five of those years at least half of the playwrights were women. This includes last year, where Lisa D’Amour’s Airline Highway was brought to Broadway amidst similar criticism that MTC continually failed to produce a play by a female playwright on their Broadway stage. Also over the past four years, 28 of the 49 commissions that MTC made for new plays went to women and minorities.

“Airline Highway” to Close Early

Manhattan Theatre Club Production Shutters One Week Early

airline highwayOn April 1, 2015, Airline Highway began previews at the Manhattan Theatre Club’s Broadway venue, the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. It officially opened on April 23, 2015. At that time, it was scheduled to conclude performances on June 14, 2015. However, it has been announced that the show will close one week early, playing its final performance on June 7, 2015. Though the play received mixed reviews, it has been performing dismally at the box office the entire run. Perhaps surprisingly, the show received four Tony Award nominations in a season when many productions received zero (those snubbed include Finding Neverland, The River, It Shoulda Been You, Living on Love, and several more). Airline Highway received nominations for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play for K. Todd Freeman, Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play for Julie White, Best Costume Design of a Play for David Zinn, and Best Lighting Design of a Play for Japhy Weideman. Nevertheless, the show will close the same day as the Tony Awards, the producers figuring that even four wins (however unlikely) would not save the flailing production.

Mixed Post Opening Reviewsairline highway

When the play opened on April 23, 2015, critics had a mixed set of opinions. Charles Isherwood of The New York Times was in favor of this production, the first by a woman to be produced on a Broadway by MTC for some time. He found the play to be compassionate but unvarnished, with some excellent performances such as that by Julie White. Robert Kahn of NBC New York was also a fan of the show, finding the story of these misfits in New Orleans to be ultimately uplifting. However, other critics were more on the fence. For instance, Adam Feldman from Time Out New York found the show to have a jazzy vigor, but he finds that the plot doesn’t ultimately go anywhere of interest. Similarly, Terry Teachout of The Wall Street Journal was in favor of Lisa D’Amour’s play being chosen for production as she is such a young writer, but he finds the play to be wholly derivative. On the far negative end of the spectrum, David Rooney from The Hollywood Reporter found the play to be rambling, uninteresting, and deficient of any action, despite the noble efforts of the cast and creative team.

Struggling Box Office from Day One

Despite some positive reviews, the show never made greater than 36.84% of its gross potential in any given week. In the last reported week of box office figures, the week ending May 31, 2015, the show brought in $160,888, which represents 32.84% of its gross potential. The average paid admission was only $46.19, showing a significant amount of discounting as well as complimentary tickets being given out, but the audience capacity still only made it to an average of 69.4%. Even though the Manhattan Theatre Club has more of a luxury to sustain a suffering production than purely commercial productions, given their not for profit status as an institution, even they had to draw the line somewhere. The decision to close only one week early allowed them to save face and still go out with four Tony nominations, but they must have decided they would cut some minor losses to cancel the final eight performances.

“Airline Highway” Begins Broadway Performances

MTC Produces a Broadway Play by a Female Writer

airline highwayThe Manhattan Theatre Club has been receiving a lot of criticism for their failure to produce a play on Broadway by a female playwright over the past two years. For the first time, they broke that streak with the production of Lisa D’Amour’s Airline Highway, which began previews at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on April 1, 2015. The show opened on April 23, 2015, and is scheduled to run until June 14, 2015. Lisa D’Amour is a renowned playwright, but this is the first time her work has been seen on Broadway. Her other plays include Nita & Zita, for which she received an Obie Award in 2003, Terrible Things, for which she received MAP Fund award in 2008, and Ten Thousand Things, for which she received the award for Best New Play from the Austin Critics’ Circle in 2002. Her play Detroit was scheduled to be produced on Broadway, but it was instead produced Off-Broadway by Playwrights Horizons in 2012-2013. This is therefore a great achievement for her work to finally be seen by a wider audience. Airline Highway is directed by Joe Mantello, whose many Broadway directing credits include An Act of God, The Last Ship, Casa Valentina, I’ll Eat You Last: A Conversation with Sue Mengers, and The Other Place.

A Gathering in a Run Down New Orleans Motelairline highway

Airline Highway takes place in New Orleans, where Lisa D’Amour was formerly a Carnival Queen. She utilizes her firsthand knowledge of the crazy range of characters in that town to craft this play. The concept of the play is an all-night party that the friends throw for their friend in honor of her death, before she has died. This pal is Miss Ruby, who lays upstairs on her deathbed, and then eventually makes it down to the parking lot party, with her bed in tow. She was a kind of maternal figure to all these tragic souls, and they are celebrating her life with a preemptive funeral. The other characters include Sissy Na Na, a wise and learned transvestite who will take on the matriarchal role once Miss Ruby has passed. We also meet the motel manager, a man who does odd jobs at the motel, and a variety of hippies and outcasts who form a tight knit community.

Difficulty Catching Hold at the Box Office

This little known play by a little known writer is having a tough time making tracks at the box office. In the last reported week of box office figures, the week ending April 26, 2015, the show only brought in $126,468, which represents 23.44% of its gross potential. In the week prior, the show reached its peak thus far with a weekly gross of $144,334, which represents 24.49% of the show’s gross potential. The average paid ticket has ranged between $29.08 and $37.42, showing a heavy amount of discounting. And yet they are still not managing to completely fill up the audience, as this last week had an average audience capacity of 86.7%. The peak in terms of audience capacity was the week before, at an average of 90.8%. Because this play is produced by Manhattan Theatre Club, it will likely survive this difficult string of box office losses, but it will still not be easy to last until June if sales don’t pick up.

“Constellations” Concludes Its Run

Last Performance March 15, 2015

constellations-large-643x441On March 15, 2015, Constellations played its last performance at Broadway’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. Produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club, Constellations began performances on December 16, 2014 and officially opened on January 13, 2015. Upon closing, it had played 76 performances on top of 29 preview performances. The play starred Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson, both making their Broadway debuts. Constellations is a new play by Nick Payne, a British writer whose last New York production, If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet, also starred Jake Gyllenhaal, but that time Off-Broadway in a Roundabout Theatre Company production. Constellations was directed by Michael Longhurst, who also directed the Roundabout play. This two-hander play premiered in London at the Royal Court Theatre in 2012, after which it transferred to the Duke of York’s Theatre in the West End. It earned strong reviews as well as the covetous honor of Best Play in the Evening Standard Theatre Awards, marking Nick Payne as the youngest writer whose play has ever received that honor. At one point, Payne disclosed that a film adaptation was in the works, but that plan has since been shelved according to a later interview.

Moderate Performance at the Box Officeconstellations

Over the course of its run, Constellations performed fairly well but not excellently at the box office. The highest weekly gross was earned in the closing week of performances, amounting to $704,605, which represents 85.83% of the gross potential. That week, the average ticket price was $120.53, and the audience was at an average 99.9% capacity. Furthermore, in the final three weeks of performances (as well as one week in January), Constellations played nine performances, whereas it had played three weeks of only seven performances each in the first month of its run. It is unclear whether this is due to scheduling conflicts, or designed so as to allow the performers to warm up to the heavy schedule. In any case, throughout the run, the weekly gross was more often around $500,000 per week, with the average paid ticket across the run being $98.87. Furthermore, the percentage reached of gross potential each week averaged out to 67.87%. Therefore, the show could have certainly performed better at the box office, but this is also not bad for a straight play with a small cast and no brand name title recognition, although it may have been thought to fare better due to the starry cast.

Overall Extremely Positive Reviews

Despite the only moderate success at the box office, the theatre critics loved Constellations. Following its opening night on January 13, 2015, the rave reviews poured in. Ben Brantley of The New York Times found the play to be gorgeous and emotionally devastating, praising the excellent performances and writing. Other critics were wowed by the production as well, including Time Out New York, Variety, the Hollywood Reporter, and NBC New York. Therefore, this goes to show that not all plays get the box office response that they deserve, but fortunately many people were able to catch this brilliant production in its New York rendition.

“Constellations” Opens on Broadway

Jake Gyllenhaal Reunites With Playwright Nick Payne

constellations-large-643x441On December 16, 2014, Constellations began previews at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, the Broadway venue for Manhattan Theatre Club. The play opened on January 13, 2015 to unanimously positive reviews. The play is a two-hander starring Academy Award nominee Jake Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko, Brokeback Mountatin) and Golden Globe winner Ruth Wilson (The Affair). This production reunited Gyllenhaal with the playwright Nick Payne as well as the director Michael Longhurst, who all worked together on a Roundabout Theater Company Off-Broadway production of Payne’s play If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet in 2012. Both Payne and Longhurst are British theatre artists of great acclaim; Payne’s accolades include raves for Wanderlust and the Evening Standard Best Play Award for Constellations, and Longhurst has received great acclaim for his direction of works including Bad Jews, The World of Extreme Happiness, and Stovepipe.

The Critics Agree: This Show Is Phenomenalconstellations

Ben Brantley in The New York Times called Constellations “gorgeous” and the “most sophisticated” date play ever to be seen on Broadway. He commended the play for making physics seem sexy, and congratulated the production on inflating to fit the scale of Broadway beautifully. Adam Feldman in Time Out New York likewise loved the play, calling it “convincing,” lauding Gyllenhaal and Wilson for being “multiversatile,” and deeming Payne’s play smart without being dry. Marilyn Stasio in Variety found the play “dreamy” and “graceful,” comparing it to If/Then as another “Sliding Doors” style drama but deeming it much more successful at the approach. David Rooney in The Hollywood Reporter found the play “rich” and “emotionally direct,” distinguishing him from other British playwrights and deeming him a level above. In addition, Roberth Kahn from NBC New York praises the play as a solid entry into the canon of “multiverse” plays. Finally, Matt Windman from AM New York was more on the fence, but he entered the play skeptically unsure of why Gyllenhaal had such a thing for British playwright Nick Payne.

Will The Numbers Match the Buzz?

In the reported box office figures thus far, Constellations is off to a moderate start. Still, it should be noted that these weeks of figures do not yet take into account the effect of the post-opening reviews, as the last reported week ended on January 11, 2015, two days before Constellations’ opening night. In the week, the show brought in $336,203 over 7 performances, which represents 56.66% of the gross potential. In the week prior ending in January 4, 2015, the show brought in $478,445, representing 70.39% of the gross potential, which was the highest percentage yet. It is to be expected that these unanimously positive reviews will have some impact, even if moderate, on ticketbuyers. It has been noted before that positive reviews British plays tend to have a greater impact than their American counterparts even when comparably reviewed, perhaps as theatregoers are awaiting the American press’ response before deeming the ticket worth buying, or perhaps just because they hadn’t even heard of the play before it hits the papers.

“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.

“Casa Valentina” Begins Previews on Broadway

Tonight at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, previews will commence for the Manhattan Theatre Club production of Casa Valentina, a world premiere play written by four-time Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein.  Directed by two-time Tony Award winner Joe Mantello, the play will run for a limited engagement between April 1, 2014 and June 15, 2014, with the official opening night taking place on April 23, 2014.  Fierstein, who has seen enormous success in penning the book for musicals including Kinky Boots, Newsies, and La Cage aux Folles, has not had a straight play produced in almost thirty years.  Well, none of Harvey Fierstein’s content is ever “straight,” per say.

casa-susanna is the basis for the Casa Valentina Broadway Show

casa-susanna is the basis for the Casa Valentina Broadway Show

Casa Valentina is based on the true story of a group of New York men in the 1960s – white collar professionals with families – who vacationed in the Catskill Mountains during the summers.  Unlike most vacationers in that period, however, these men had a particular quirk: they dressed up as women.  Beyond assuming female wardrobe to a meticulous degree of detail, they also adopted the personalities of their female counterparts during the vacation.  While transvestitism has proliferated in our culture in many forms since that time, these men were truly transgressive, and yet they were still firmly embedded in conventional heterosexual culture in the course of their everyday lives.  The play introduces us to these unique individuals, and then follows them as they are confronted with a difficult choice: the opportunity to become an official organization, effectively outing their precious secret.

casa-susanna is the basis for the Casa Valentina Broadway Show

Just as interesting as the plot of the play, however, is the background of how this true story became uncovered.  Some time ago, a pair of antique collectors discovered a large collection of old photographs at a New York flea market.  When they realized that the gorgeous women depicted in the photographs were in fact men, which was not immediately obvious, they decided to publish them in a book entitled Casa Susanna.  The pictures alone tell the heartbreaking story of these conflicted souls.  However, what is exceedingly interesting is that none of the press releases about this new Broadway play refer to the original source material.

After purchasing the rights to this book of photographs, the producers Colin Callender, Robert Cole, and Frederick Zollo commissioned Harvey Fierstein to write a play based on the images.  To mitigate their risk in bringing an untried play directly to Broadway, they partnered with the Manhattan Theatre Club, and agreed to be credited as granting the production “by special arrangement.”  It is curious that the producers decided not only to change the name of the play to Casa Valentina from the original title of Casa Susanna, but also to neglect to mention the book of photographs in any press release.  Perhaps the reason was to protect the appearance of originality for Harvey Fierstein, and calling this a “world premiere” by Fierstein certainly implies that it was his idea in the first place, which it was not.

casa-susanna is the basis for the Casa Valentina Broadway Show

Of course, none of this background information would affect the quality of the play itself, which is to be seen in the coming weeks as previews unfold.  What does bode well is the extraordinary cast of Broadway stalwarts and up-and-comers, including Reed Birney, John Cullum, Gabriel Ebert, Larry Pine, and Patrick Page.  Under the skilled direction of Joe Mantello, and surely featuring Harvey Fierstein’s signature wit, this play could be a very exciting addition to the Broadway season.  Indeed, it would be a true achievement if Fierstein’s concocted narrative comes close to representing the understated yet superb beauty of the mysterious found photographs, which the producers of this play clearly do not want the audience to discover.

John Patrick Shanley’s “Outside Mullingar” Closes

Outside Mullingar, the newest play by Pulitzer Prize winner John Patrick Shanley, has concluded its run on Broadway.  The Manhattan Theatre Club produced this Irish romantic comedy at its Broadway house, the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on West 47th Street.  Outside-MullingarDirected by Doug Hughes, the play began previews on January 3, 2014 and officially opened on January 23, 2014, playing its final performance on Sunday, March 16, 2014.  The play starred Debra Messing (Will & Grace) in her Broadway debut, alongside Brían F. O’Byrne (Doubt, The Coast of Utopia), Dearbhla Molloy (A Touch of the Poet, Dancing at Lughnasa), and Peter Maloney (West Side Story).

The play was a New York Times Critics’ Pick, with critic Charles Isherwood calling it “Mr. Shanley’s finest work since Doubt,” which won both the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize in 2005, and which was adapted into a feature film, also penned by Shanley, in 2008.  Taking place in the Midlands of Ireland in contemporary times, Outside Mullingar tells the story of an Irish father named Tony (Maloney), his terminally shy son Anthony (O’Byrne), and their neighbor Rosemary (Messing) who watches the years go by as she harbors a romantic devotion to Anthony.  Despite a land feud between their families, and Tony threatening to disinherit Anthony, the lovers fight their way toward some kind of stability and hope for the future.

Critics were largely supportive of this production, with The New York Times, Hollywood Reporter, and NBC all giving it raves.  Entertainment Weekly, on the other hand, called it “sweet but peculiar” and Newsday deemed it a “95-minute oddity.”  In any case, this world premiere by such a beloved playwright did fairly well in terms of attracting an audience, finishing off its run with average capacity well above 90 percent.  Though it averaged only around 50 percent in terms of reaching its gross potential, this is largely due to the Manhattan Theatre Club’s large subscription audience, who benefit from discount tickets through buying the season in bulk.  Fortunately, as this is a Broadway production mounted by a not-for-profit theatre institution, the play did not need to rely on full recoupment of its capitalization in order to deem the production a financial success.