“On the Aisle with Larry”

Lawrence Harbison, The Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. In this column, Larry reports on IT’S ONLY A PLAY, THE COUNTRY HOUSE, LOST LAKE, OUR LADY OF KIBEHO and PITBULLS.

Terrence McNally’s It’s Only a Play, at the Schoenfeld Theatre, is the biggest hit play Broadway has seen in many a moon, selling out every performance. The Main Event is the reunification of Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, with other stars thrown in for good measure, such as Stockard Channing, F. Murray Abraham and Rupert Grint (of the Harry Potter movies). Mine is very much a minority opinion: I hated it. Here’s why.

McNally’s characters inhabit a Broadway as most “civilians” imagine it, full of self-obsessed, narcissistic ninnies. All them are caricatures, from the fresh off the bus naïf who’s taking coats to the playwright (Matthew Broderick in Yet Another quivery high-pitched performance, pretty much the same one he’s turned in ever since his Finch in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying), to the coke-sniffing leading lady (Stockard Channing, in a too over-the-top performance) to the enfant terrible young British stage director (I saw Grint’s understudy), who is flabbergasted that the critics love everything he’s directed, even though he thinks most of it was crap, and as a result he’s had 15 straight hits. He desperately hopes for a flop. He’s been knighted and is soon to be made a peer. Remember, Rupert Grint is playing this part. When did this guy start directing, when he was 5? Abraham plays a vicious theatre critic, who For Some Strange Reason has been invited to the opening night party at the townhouse of the producer whose money comes, of course, from her husband (caricatured by an unrecognizable Megan Mullally as a shallow, rich dimwit). Back to Abraham’s character, do you really think that critics are invited to Broadway opening night parties, particularly ones as loathed as Abraham’s character is?

What little plot there is concerns everyone’s wait for the all-important Brantley review, which will decide their fate. The dialogue is mostly just one-liner after one-liner. Some of these, I admit, are funny, but all too many are just silly. Did I mention the costumes? All the male party guests are in tuxedoes, with the exception of the rumpled director and Broderick, who’s in top hat and tails, looking like he’s glided in from an Astaire/Rogers musical. Nobody wears tuxes any more, even to opening night parties. As I said, this is a civilian’s fantasy of Broadway, not Broadway as it is. It’s a silly (and I mean that not in a good way) send-up which made me think of Forbidden Broadway without the songs.

Far better was Donald Margulies’ The Country House, which has just closed at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Broadway venue, the Friedman Theatre. This also had a theatrical subject. It took place at the Williamstown home of a fading Broadway and film star who’s playing at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. She’s invited a hunky young TV star to stay at her home, and he becomes a source of lust for every female in the play. Also in the mix are Elliott, the brother, who’s a failed actor and now a failed playwright. He’s sort of a combination of Uncle Vanya and The Sea Gull’s Konstantin. In fact, this is Margulies’ most “Chekhovian” play – not rip off, but homage to the Russian master. It was funny, and poignant, and featured wonderful performances by the likes of Blythe Danner, Daniel Sunjata, David Rasche and Eric Lange. I hope you got a chance to see it.

Off Broadway, Manhattan Theatre Club has another beautiful production, this one at City Center Stage II, of David Auburn’s touching Lost Lake, a two-hander which takes place in a run-down cabin on a lake somewhere north of here, rented by woman from New York, who’s brought her two kids and one of their friends there for the summer. It turns out, the owner of the cabin has fallen on hard times (in fact his life has mostly been nothing but hard times, bad decisions and bad luck), who is living in his truck. John Hawkes is sensational as this touching loser, and Tracie Thoms is also touching as she turns out to be not unlike her summer landlord, with bad luck and bad decisions of her own.

Lost Lake: a perfect title for a play about two lost souls.

Katori Hall’s Our Lady of Kibeho, at the Signature center, is a drama based on the true story of three Rwandan girls who claimed to have visions of the Virgin Mary. It’s an astonishing play, beautifully directed by Michael Greif, with a jaw-dropping ending in which the girls reveal Mary’s terrible prophecy about Rwanda. Don’t miss it – it’s one of the best plays of this season.

Keith Josef Adkins’ Pitbulls, at Rattlestick, is a trailer trash play.What makes it unique is that all the characters are black. The central one is the woman who lives in the trailer with her teenaged son, supporting them by making wine and selling it by the roadside. The biggest form of entertainment in the town is big fighting, and everyone’s in on it from the Mayor on down. Problem is, someone’s been killing the dogs. Everyone in the play is great; particularly, Yvette Ganier as Our Heroine. Pitbulls marks the debut of a major new playwright and is not to be missed.

IT’S ONLY A PLAY. Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

THE COUNTRY HOUSE. Friedman Theatre. Alas, closed

LOST LAKE. City Center Stage 1, 131 W. 55th St

TICKETS: 212-581-1212

OUR LADY OF KIBEHO. Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd St.

TICKETS: 212-244-7529

PITBULLS. Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, 224 Waverly Pl.

TICKETS: www.rattlestick.org 

For discount tickets for groups of ten or more, contact Carol Ostrow Productions & Group Sales. Phone: 212-265-8500. E-Mail: ostrow1776@aol.com.

“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 

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually does strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” 

                                                                                    — Theodore Roosevelt