September 10, 2011

My Annual Idiosyncratic Fall Theater Preview

This time of year is always bittersweet.  Labor Day has come and gone, which means that while summer doesn’t end until Sept. 23, the golden days of my favorite season are fast dwindling. On the other hand, the transition to fall always brings a rash of new shows to see. 

I have to be honest: this year’s line-up isn’t as enticing as last year's. But a lot of those shows turned out to be duds. So a lot of my current excitement comes from wondering what fate awaits the ones now in the wings.  

Stephen Sondheim fans are already besides themselves about the new revival of FOLLIES with Bernadette Peters and Jan Maxwell as the one-time BFFs attending a reunion of Ziegfeld-like chorus girls. And even people who pay only casual attention to what’s happening on Broadway are excited about THE MOUNTAINTOP, Katori Hall’s Olivier-winning two-hander about the last night in Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, because it will bring the powerhouse performers Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett back to Broadway for the first time in 20 years (they’re even scheduled to appear in the pages of Vogue).

There’s also a lot of chatter about the off-Broadway shows WE LIVE HERE, a play about the tensions arising from an unexpected guest at a wedding written by the up-and-coming young actress Zoe Kazan, who also happens to be the legendary Elia Kazan's granddaughter; and ASUNCION a drama about race and friendship, written by and starring Jesse Eisenberg, hot off his star turn in the movie “The Social Network.”

I’m just as eager to see all those shows as everyone else but below are five others—all plays, which, alas, says something about the state of the upcoming musicals this fall—that, for one idiosyncratic reason or another, intrigue me just as much if not more:

BLOOD AND GIFTS: J.T. Rogers is one of the few young American playwrights who regularly takes on big political subjects. His play The Overwhelming tackled the genocide in Rwanda and he was the only American to contribute to The Great Game: Afghanistan, the 12-play cycle about that country’s troubled relationship with the West over the past three centuries. Rogers has expanded his cycle play about the CIA and its support of the mujahideen who were fighting against the Soviet Union in the ‘80s but who later morphed into the Taliban that we’re still fighting today. A production of the longer version drew praise in London last fall.  Now Bartlett Sher is directing a new production of it for Lincoln Center that, although it comes 10 years after 9/11, is still totally timely.

DREAMS OF FLYING DREAMS OF FALLING. I run hot and cold on the plays of the prolific Adam Rapp but I do appreciate the fact that they always set me thinking. I’m even more impressed by the high-caliber actors who seem to line up for a chance to do his work. The cast in what the Atlantic Theater Company is billing as a “surreal” look at the lives of two wealthy American families includes  Quincy Tyler Bernstine, Cotter Smith, Katherine Waterston and the always-terrific Reed Birney, whose presence alone would be enough to justify this play’s place on my want-to-see list.

MAN AND BOY:  The British playwright Terence Rattigan turned out a play a year for almost 40 years, making him a mainstay of both the West End and Broadway until his death from cancer in 1977. Only one of Rattigan’s plays has been done on Broadway since then but this year marks the centenary of his birth and the Roundabout Theatre Company is marking the occasion with a revival of his drama about a ruthless businessman, starring the great Frank Langella.  I’ve been a Rattigan fan since my husband K and I stumbled on the movie version of his play Separate Tables on AMC and I’ve gobbled up whatever of his I could find ever since. Plus I’m always hungry for more Langella.

OTHER DESERT CITIES:  Jon Robin Baitz’s a tart-tongued drama about family secrets and lingering resentments between an affluent older couple and their baby-boomer children blew me away when I saw it at Lincoln Center earlier this year. Now it’s heading to Broadway.  The casting is slightly different:  Rachel Griffiths is replacing Elizabeth Marvel as the couple’s estranged daughter and Judith Light is taking over from Linda Lavin as the wisecracking aunt with sobriety issues. But Stockard Channing and Stacy Keach are still on board as the parents and so is Thomas Sadoski as the peacemaker son. I have high hopes that Joe Mantello, who did a bang-up job with the original production, will keep everything right on course.

THE LYONS.  Linda Lavin passed on both the chance to play the showbiz trouper Hattie Walker who sings “Broadway Baby” in Follies and the role of the aunt in Other Desert Cities so that she could portray the mother in Nicky Silver’s new play about a family struggling to come to terms with the death of the husband and father who bound them together. Mark Brokaw is directing the play, which is being done at the Vineyard Theatre.  I don’t know anything more about it than that.  But if it’s good enough for the prodigiously talented Lavin to give up a shot at two Broadway shows, that’s more than good enough for me.

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