“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 Fall 2014 Line-Up Falling into Place

This fall looks to be an exciting one on Broadway!  Let’s face it – every new season is pretty exciting.  But with the Tony Awards still a month away to commend the brilliant plays and musicals of the 2013-2014 season, announcements are already being made for shows to open next fall.

It was recently announced that Hugh Jackman will be returning to Broadway this fall in Jez Butterworth’s play The River.  Jez Butterworth’s work was last seen on Broadway with the 2011 production of Jerusalem starring Mark Rylance, directed by Ian Rickson, and prohugh jackmanduced by London-based powerhouse theatre production company Sonia Friedman Productions.  Sonia Friedman will be shepherding a Butterworth play once again, after having watched over its production at the Royal Court Theatre, where Jerusalem also premiered.  The partnership between Ian Rickson and Jez Butterworth also holds strong, as Rickson is on board to direct this play.  The River is about a loner on a remote island and the two women in his life, who will be played by British actresses Laura Donnelly and Cush Jumbo.  The River will begin performances at the Circle in the Square Theatre on October 31, 2014.  A favorite of the Great White Way, Hugh Jackman sold out his 2011 one-man show Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway, and he will host the Tony Awards this year for the fourth time.

In addition to the proven partnership between director Ian Rickson and playwright Jez Butterworth, another fall show will see the recurrence of a proven Broadway partnership, this time between two beloved actors.  Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, who famously co-starred in 2001’s The Producers, will join forces this fall for a Terrence McNally play called It’s Only a Play, directed by Jack O’Brien.  Like The Producers, It’s Only a Play is also a comedy based in the world of show biz.  Having premiered at the Manhattan Theater Club in 1986, It’s Only a Play is the story of a nervous playwright (Broderick) at the opening night party for a play he has written, and his interactions with his backstabbing friend (Lane).  Produced by Tom Kirdahy, who is married to Terrence McNally, the play will begin performances in September at a theatre yet to be announced.

Producer Scott Rudin also has a starry play up his sleeve for this fall.  This Is Our Youth, written by Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count on Me, Margaret, The Starry Messenger) first premiemichael cera kieran culkinred Off-Broadway in a production by The New Group in 1996.  The play centers on three aimless teenagers in New York City, and this Broadway production will star Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin, and Tavi Gevinson.  Directed by Anna D. Shapiro (Motherf**ker with the Hat), the show will have an out-of-town pre-Broadway run at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago over the summer, and it will then transfer to Broadway’s Cort Theatre with performances beginning August 18, 2014.  Michael Cera and Kieran Culkin also appeared in their same roles in an Australian production of this play in 2012, directed by Mark Brokaw.

Further fall productions that have been announced include Simon Stephens’ play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which is a transfer from London’s National Theatre via the West End.  The play will occupy the Ethel Barrymore Theatre with previews beginning September 15, 2014.  In addition, The Country House by Donald Margulies will star Blythe Danner at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, with previews beginning September 9, 2014 in a Manhattan Theatre Club production.  Finally, it has also been announced that a production of Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing will play at the American Airlines Theatre in a Roundabout Theatre Company production, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ewan McGregor, and Cynthia Nixon, and directed by Sam Gold.  This is just the tip of the iceberg, however, as many more exciting shows are sure to be announced for the Broadway fall season in the coming months.