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The (T.V.) Guide Of Casting

Betty

It’s late July and the first whispers of Broadway’s 2013-2014 season can be heard. Unlike a sighting of back-to-school displays, this prematurity is welcome. Even if one loves the summer and is ensconced in a villa or beach hideaway, paradise can get a bit tedious. And if you’re of the school that there is never enough sand, seafood and sangria it’s nice to think of how you will assuage yourself once the leaves turn. And let’s face it, anticipation is more than half the fun.

If you’re a lover of (what I call) main stage Broadway and swoon at all things Llyod Weber, there’s almost always something to look forward. It’s also almost a sure bet that revival lovers will be happy. But what’s more of a gamble, and therefore a bit exciting, is news of new works, fabulous directors or stellar stage performers. Both camps of theatregoers; main stage and not-so-main stage often experience FOMO (fear of missing out) in extreme form. The line for the cronut is nothing compared to the virtual line for an “insert celebrity name here” show, jukebox musical, or made from TV, or film show. Nothing creates buzz like buzz, and most main stage shows have a marketing machine to beat the band. A quieter, no more attractive frenzy occurs over the not-so-main stage offerings as well. The bragging rights are comparable as well. In brownstones, penthouses and rent control classic sixes, you can hear any of the following; “Cumming’s Macbeth? We saw it before it went to Broadway. Of course Patti was great in Gypsy, but the Encores! production was quite different. You wanna see flying? You MUST see Peter and the Starcatcher.” (Somewhere in apartments we couldn’t afford or dare to enter there are similar conversations of theatre so obscure & avant-garde that knowing their titles is as good as seeing them.)

John Patrick Shanley (Doubt, Defiance), James Lapine (Sunday In The Park With George, Into The Woods), Doug Hughes (Inherit The Wind, Mauritius, A Man For All Seasons) will be collaborating in various configurations at The Manhattan Theatre Club. These names are guaranteed to perk the imagination of any theatre lover. The Manhattan Theatre Club often achieves a delicate balance of risk and sure thing. They produce new work and attract stellar performers. The new work is often very good and the performers are often well cast. (Hardly minor points!) It’s not surprising then that the casting for Mr. Shanley’s new play evoked in me a Scooby-Doo type response. The new work will star Brian O’Byrne (Doubt, Defiance, The Beauty Queen of Leenane) and Debra Messing (television star). Now there are plenty of accomplished stage actors who found fame in sitcoms, but (according to her resume) Ms. Messing doesn’t seem to be one of them. Acting on camera is an entirely different endeavor than acting on stage. (You can test this at home by pulling up the one live show of Will & Grace. While it is still edited it is raw enough to discern where each actor’s comfort zone lies.) This is not to suggest that people can’t surprise us in the most delightful way. I love nothing more than hearing the voice in my head shout; “Crikey, would you look at that! He/she is GOOD!” And (for the right price) I’m willing to give any performer (within reason) the benefit of the doubt. But this casting does have me wondering.

I would love to be a fly (or a less disgusting insect) on the wall during the creative meetings. I’d also love to eavesdrop on the editorial meetings in which celebrity opinion pieces are chosen over journalism. What can I say; I love to witness verbal jousting! I’m absolutely certain (she says while adjusting her rose colored glasses) that at least one person pipes up in these meetings; “Do we really need to go the celebrity route?” before being pelted with cronuts.

 
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Posted by on July 20, 2013 in Media/Marketing, Theatre

 

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Storefront Church – Review

The Atlantic Theatre has had a recent facelift.  And like a lot of us small unassuming people when having 8.5 million dollars at one’s disposal, they have rendered themselves unrecognizable.  There is a lobby now, and a box office, and that odd musty smell is gone, and that’s nice.  But the house now looks like every other house.  Gone are the oddly pitched bleacher seats, the modest stage and what made the space so unique; the public restroom in the wings.  The stage is now massive, there’s a fly (or perhaps two) and the seats are brand new and set somewhat below the apron.  It looks shiny and new, but it’s lacking in character.

Aptly, the new space is being christened with Storefront Church.  Written and directed by John Patrick Shanley’s, Storefront Church is the final installment in his “church and state” trilogy.  (The first two were Doubt and Defiance.)  Storefront Church would not be recognizable as part of this trilogy, except we are told that it is.  Doubt, about the Catholic Church, and Defiance about the military (both directed by Doug Hughes) were tightly told tales of imposing institutions.  It’s difficult to put the same dramatic significance upon banking.

The story is about faith and the mortgage business.  (That’s “AND” not “IN”) and is as creaky as it sounds.  Issuing a second mortgage to a poor risk doesn’t seem to have the same resonance as that of child molestation or the moralistic labyrinth of the military.  If we are to extrapolate the insidious racism at work in the refinance industry, why is the recipient of the second mortgage married to a white Jewish man?  That may be just too “riddle wrapped in an enigma” for me. The first act is at times a demonstration of the new technical toys at the theatre’s disposable.  The stage crew seemed to be on stage as much as the cast.  (Doubt and Defiance were simply staged powerful pieces.)  There are so many scene changes in the first act that whatever power was there, was part of what got swept up by the crew (I’m not kidding, they come out and sweep the stage while we watch.)  There are (massive) set changes twice, to stage soulful staring on a bench.  A song plays for each of these stareathons.  “Snow” falls for one of them, which may provide a nice wink for The Hunchback of Notre Dame riff, but is distracting as it keeps accidentally falling throughout the play.  (That’s not a technical problem, fake snow always does that.)  The Hunchback reference is interesting but is a bit belabored.  When the play opens on a bug-eyed droopy-lipped Reed Van Druyten (the stunning Zach Grenier) and Ethan Goldklang (the powerful Bob Dishy) is holding the book and talking about it; we get it.  There is one reference in Act II that should stay because it’s funny, but the others?  Well that’s why you shouldn’t necessarily direct your own new work.

Another director might not bring out the beauty that Mr Shanley does in his actors, but he might have also had a little heart-to-heart with the playwright.  The theme of the play is far too vague to burden it with superfluous scenes and lumbering set changes.  This becomes even clearer during Act II.  There are only two scenes and they are perfectly written.  They are clear, powerful, engaging and terribly moving.

The cast includes Tonya Pinkins who (much to the audience’s delight) sings a spiritual.  That voice!  Her role is not large, but she is absolutely delightful.  Giancarlo Esposito (Donaldo) and Ron Cephas Jones (Chester) are incredibly convincing as the Bronx Borough President and Pastor.  Their (lengthy) scene in the first act is clunky and far too esoteric, but they do a splendid job with it.  The wonderfully smarmy Jordan Lage (Tom) rounds out the cast.  You know Tom, you’ve worked with Tom, you want to hurt Tom.

Storefront Church is in previews and will be open June 11 – June 24.  If Act I can more resemble Act II this will be a stunning play.  As it is now, it should be seen for the performances.  It is rare to see a collection of seasoned actors like this in such an intimate space.

 
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Posted by on May 21, 2012 in Theatre

 

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