Larry the Playfixer brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. This week, Larry tells you about A STEADY RAIN, HAMLET, THE ROYAL FAMILY, VIGIL, KILLERS AND OTHER FAMILY, THE BREATH OF LIFE and ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT.

It’s that time of the year: the traditional, old-time start of the theatre season. As soon as the Jewish holidays end, shows open just about every night. It’s a reminder of what the NY Theatre once was. In 1927, for instance, there were over 350 openings, all on Broadway – sometimes, two a night. It’s like that now, except not on Broadway, but in small theatres. Since my last column, I’ve seen about 10 new shows (what a hard life I lead). Here is my report on most of them.

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A Steady Rain by Keith Huff comes to us via Chicago, where it wowed critics. That’s not why it’s on Broadway, though. It’s here because a miracle occurred. One of the producers of the James Bond franchise saw it in Chicago, and got the script and gave it to Daniel Craig, who decided he wanted to do it on Broadway. The other role was offered to Hugh Jackman, who accepted it. In about five seconds, the Broadway production was financed. In about five minutes after it was announced, the limited run was sold out. Have you noticed how every Broadway play is announced these days as having a “limited run?” What a brilliant ploy!

Anyway, as could have been predicted, the two stars got the raves from the critics, but most of them were rather condescending to the play. Since it’s about two cops, many dissed it for being the worst thing a critic can call a play: “television.” I am pleased to inform you that A Steady Rain is definitely not television. There are live actors, on a stage, in front of a live audience. So, it’s NOT TELEVISION.

Much of the play is a series of interlocking monologues by these two cops, best friends for years and squad car partners, but Huff manages to weave in a lot of conflict between these two men so you never feel as if it’s story hour at the Schoenfeld Theatre. The play builds towards it’s tragic climax with subtlety and power. And the two actors are wonderful in their roles. Both have almost pitch-perfect Chicago accents, and both almost make you believe they are these two guys, instead of two slumming movie stars.

You may find it hard to get a ticket; but maybe this “limited run” will extend.

Around the block, at the Broadhurst Theatre, another movie star is holding court – like Daniel Craig, another Brit. Jude Law is giving one of the greatest Shakespearean performances I have ever seen, as the title role in Hamlet.

Far from being the traditional Melancholy Dane, Law’s Hamlet is passionate and furious. He was a little ragged, vocally, at the performance I attended, but his portrayal still knocked me for a loop, as did Michael Grandage’s direction, which found new ways of staging scenes and new bits of business I had never seen which often made me think, “I can’t believe nobody thought of this before.”

Law’s supporting cast has been denigrated as being second rate. This often happens when fine actors have to appear with a major film star. These actors are not second rate. This is a fine company. And this is not only the best Hamlet, and the best Hamlet, I have ever seen, but one of the finest Shakespearean productions I have ever had the pleasure to see.

When Manhattan Theatre Club began “The Biltmore Experiment,” I had high hopes that this would lead to the production of more new plays on Broadway, albeit non-commercially. Sadly, MTC has abandoned this goal and is now mounting mostly revivals at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, which is now what they are calling the Biltmore. Many of the critics are unhappy about this, most notably those of Time Out/NY, which has panned (most unfairly in my opinion) most of the new plays MTC has produced in its Broadway venue, and now can’t understand why they are not doing new plays there. Lord, have mercy.

Anyway, the current revival at the Friedman is a fine production of Kaufman and Ferber’s THE ROYAL FAMILY, an amusing trifle loosely about the Barrymore family. Today’s audience thinks the first lady of the Barrymores is Drew, so the enjoyment has to come from the play itself, rather than from how accurately it portrays its subject. The play itself is a perfectly enjoyable boulevard play, a light satire of actors and the theatrical profession. I think it helps if you’re at least something of an insider, but there is still much to enjoy if you’re a civilian. Doug Hughes’ production is, as usual, excellent, and several of the performances are of the “don’t-miss” variety; most notably, Rosemary Harris’s Fanny Cavendish and Jan Maxwell’s Julie. I also enjoyed John Glover as Herbert and Reg Rogers as Tony, the role based on John Barrymore.

Go – you’ll have a good time, even as you mourn the abandonment of the Biltmore Experiment.

Vigil, at the DR2 Theatre, by Canadian playwright Morris Panych, sounded most promising. A comedy with Malcolm Gets and Helen Stenborg, it takes place in the apartment of an elderly woman. Her nephew thinks she’s dying, and he has abandoned his life to sit with her in her last days. This proves merely an excuse for him to rant on and on and on about his unhappy life. His aunt doesn’t even say anything until the end of the first act, a contrivance that could have been sustained for ten minutes, maybe, but not for an entire play. Unfortunately, the nephew is a most unpleasant blatherer. Gets does his best, but after about 20 minutes of listening to this guy you’ll want to either kill yourself or leave the theatre.

Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre produced Lucy Thurber’s Killers and Other Family several seasons ago, and has mounted a new production of the play, the author apparently having revised the script. The central character, Lizzie, is struggling both to finish her dissertation and to escape her past, when who should arrive but her past, in the form of her brother and her former boyfriend, Danny, who claim to be headed to Mexico and need some money. Danny, it seems, may have murdered a woman back home. Also in the play is Claire, Lizzie’s roommate and lover. What ensues is a gripping, often violent, tug of war, with Lizzie as the rope.

The direction by Caitriona McLaughlin is taut as a high-wire, and the performances by her 4-member cast are superb – particularly those of Samantha Soule as Lizzie and Shane McRae as Danny.

This one’s a don’t-miss.

I travelled up to the Westport Country Playhouse to see David Hare’s The Breath of Life largely because Hare is one of the British Theatre’s finest playwrights but also because of the chance to see two of our theatre’s finest actresses, Jane Alexander and Stockard Channing. I wasn’t disappointed by either.

The play takes place in a house on the Isle of Wight inhabited by Madeleine, a woman in her 60s. There is a knock at her door, she opens it, and who should be standing there but the Other Woman, Frances. There is much tension between these two, which we learn gradually is due to the fact that they both loved the same man, Frances’ now ex-husband, who carried on an affair with Madeleine for years before Frances found out about it. It’s a peel-back-the-layers-of-the-onion sort of play, packed with fascinating observations about the choices one makes and how one lives one’s life, particularly if one is a woman, and is jam-packed with wonderful monologues and pithy dialogue, if a tad dramatically thin.

Of course, Alexander and Channing are both wonderful. On the night I attended, the house was jam-packed with Broadway types, no doubt looking at the play as a possible transfer. I would be surprised if this happened, unless it were with Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig as Madeleine and Frances, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this turns up soon at Manhattan Theatre Club. If it does, it’s a definite must-see.

Finally, I caught Shirley Lauro’s All Through the Night, in the Marjorie S. Deane Little Theatre in the Westside Y, produced by Red Fern Theatre, a company new to me. The play appears to be based on the actual stories of German gentile women who lived through the second World War, though no source is credited in the program. This is a compelling story, though one that seemed to discomfit some audience members. Yes, anti-semiticism is expressed by some of these women, and their stories focus on the persecution and extermination of Gypsies and crippled children by the Nazi swine. Some people think this diminishes the horror of the Jewish holocaust. I am not one of them.

My problem with the play was that the actors, with one exception, simply are not up to the demands of this kind of play, though they could have been helped considerably by a more adept director. I also question the playwright’s choice to have two actresses speak mitt heavy Cherman excents, mitt a lot of “jawohl, Mein Commandants” und “Gott in Himmels”. Fortunately, though, one of these Chermans is the best actress on the stage, Andrea Sooch, whose portrayals of various Nazi True Believers are chilling.

A STEADY RAIN. Schoenfeld Theatre. 236 W. 45th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com. 212-239-6200.
HAMLET. Broadhurst Theatre. 235 W. 44th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com. 212-239-6200.
THE ROYAL FAMILY. Friedman Theatre. 261 W. 47th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com 212-239-6200.
VIGIL. DR2 Theatre. 203 E. 15th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com. 212-239-6200.
KILLERS AND OTHER FAMILY. Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre. 224
Waverly Pl.
TICKETS: www.smarttix.com. 212-868-4444.
THE BREATH OF LIFE. Westport Country Playhouse, Westport, CT.
TICKETS: 203-227-4177.
ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT. Marjorie S. Deane Little Theatre. 5 W. 64th
St.
TICKETS: www.theatremania.com. 212-352-3101

“It requires a certain largeness of spirit to give generous appreciation to large achievements. A society with a crabbed spirit and a cynical urge to discount and devalue will find that one day, when it needs to draw upon the reservoirs of excellence, the reservoirs have run dry.”

—– George F. Will

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