September 11, 2010
An Idiosyncratic Preview of the Fall Season
It’s an annual rite. Or should I say write? For this is the time of year that people like me who write about theater are suppose to write about the shows we’re most looking forward to seeing in the upcoming season. However it’s not so much the new shows I’m eager to see this year but, rather, certain performances. Some of my very favorite actors—many of them MIA from Broadway for too long—will be hitting the boards this fall and here are the ones I’m literally bouncing in my seat to see:
ELIZABETH MARVEL in The Little Foxes. The role of the ruthless Regina, who will do anything to achieve the wealth she craves in Lillian Hellman’s tragic family saga, has always been catnip for powerhouse actresses. Tallulah Bankhead played her in the original 1939 stage production. Bette Davis took her on in the classic movie version. Elizabeth Taylor got a Tony nomination for the 1981 Broadway revival. Now, the always marvelous Marvel—I dare you to name a more fearless actress working in the theater today—is ready to give the part her usual surge of dynamic energy.
CHERRY JONES in Mrs. Warren’s Profession. Jones has won all kinds of kudos for her turn as the President on the Fox series “24” but she is at her most commanding in front of a live audience. Truth be told, I’m not that big a fan of George Bernard Shaw’s plays but it’s been four long years since Jones has been on a New York stage and I’d go to see her if she were appearing in the Ice Capades.
PATRICK STEWART in A Life in the Theater. I know that some theater mavens think Stewart is too mannered but even they would have to admit that he seems a perfect choice for the grandiloquent old trouper in David Mamet’s droll love letter to the acting profession. And, there’s the bonus that T.R. Knight, a theater vet on Broadway, off-Broadway and in regional theater before his years as George on TV’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” will play the young protégé.
JEFFREY WRIGHT in A Free Man of Color. There are far too few parts in which a black actor as talented as Wright can show off just how truly magnificent he is and it’s been far too long since Wright has been on a New York stage. So I’ve got my fingers crossed that John Guare’s eagerly anticipated new play, set in a freewheeling New Orleans during the time before the Louisiana Purchase and directed by George C. Wolfe, will offer Wright the kind of legroom he needs to strut his stuff.
DAVID HYDE PIERCE and MARK RYLANCE in La Bête. The1991 version of David Hirson’s comedy, which centers around an 18th century French acting company and is written in iambic pentameter, didn’t fare so well with the critics and only ran for 25 performances. But I managed to see one of them and I found it a goofy delight. Both Pierce and Rylance are real smart when it comes to playing goofy and so the odds seem good that the play will do better this time around.
VANESSA REDGRAVE in Driving Miss Daisy. To be honest, the casting of Redgave and James Earl Jones as the elderly southern grande dame and her faithful chauffeur in Aldred Uhry's odd couple story set in pre-Civil Rights Atlanta strikes me as strange. But I’ve never seen Redgrave give a bad performance and I don’t expect her to break the pattern this time either.
JUST ABOUT THE WHOLE DAMN CAST in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Patti LuPone. Brian Stokes Mitchell. Laura Benanti. Sheri Rene Scott. All in David Yazbek’s musical adaptation of Pedro Almodóvar’s zany movie about four Spanish women, their lovers, mental illness, a botched kidnapping, Shiite terrorists and the mambo. Need I say more?