Here’s your chance to get up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. This week, Larry tells you about CIRCLE MIRROR TRANFORMATION, AFTER MISS JULIE, LOVE CHILD, EMBRACEABLE ME and INVENTING AVI.

So far, this seems to be a pretty good year for women playwrights. Primary Stages’ entire season is comprised of plays by women, Lincoln Center Theatre is staging Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room in a Broadway house, and right now you can see four new productions of plays by women: Theresa Rebeck’s The Understudy (presented by Roundabout at the Laura Pels Theatre), Heidi Schreck’s Creature (New Georges at Ohio), Liz Duffy Adams’ Or (Women’s Project at the Julia Miles Theatre) and Annie Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation (Playwrights Horizons). So far, the only one I’ve seen is the latter; but I am very glad to see that the ladies are finally getting their due.

Circle Mirror Transformation takes place at an adult education class in “creative drama” in a small town in Vermont. This is more like group therapy than drama, as four adults show their willingness to do just about anything their “teacher” asks them to do, much of which looks rather ridiculous to us. So, on one level, the plays works as a satire of the “touchy-feely” type of actor training; but the playwright has more than just satire on her mind. What emerges from all this is a compelling plot, most of which occurs off-stage. A lonely middle-aged man whose wife left him falls for a younger woman, a refugee actress from New York who has fled all the rejection and craziness there, as well as an abusive boyfriend. There’s the husband of the teacher, an ex-60’s radical, And, there’s a morose teenager who took the class because she thought it would help her land the role of Maria in her school’s production of West Side Story.

Mostly, the students act out incidents from their lives, and from the lives of the others in the class. As a dramaturgical exercise, Circle Mirror Transformation is fascinating. It’s like Ms. Baker has come up with a whole new way to make a play. As actual onstage drama, though, it can be a little slow; though the cast is so fine that they ultimately make this an enjoyable evening.

After Miss Julie at the American Airlines Theatre is an adaptation by British playwright Patrick Marber of Strindberg’s Miss Julie, set in post World War II Britain. I am not a fan of the original – indeed, of Strindberg in general – but I have to say that Marber’s version is more to my taste. Julie is the spoiled daughter of a country lord. Jean – here called John—is his chauffeur. Christine, the third character (called Bertha, I think, in the Strindberg original), is the cook of the manor, in love with John and hoping they will marry. As in Strindberg, Julie is a sexually voracious pest who seduces John just because she can and then ruins him.

I admired Mark Brokaw’s production very much – particularly the cat and mouse game in the first half of the play, crackling with sexual tension. Opinion seems to be mixed on Sienna Miller’s Julie. I came to it with an open mind, because I know virtually nothing about her, either as an actress or as tabloid copy. For me, she was a fresh new face, and I thought her performance of this unpleasant character absolutely terrific. Also great were Jonny Lee Miller (another movie actor I never heard of) as John and Marin Ireland (one of my faves) as Christine.

To my mind, this is better than Strindberg, and well-worth seeing.

I also enjoyed Daniel Jenkins and Robert Stanton in their Love Child, at New World Stages, a transfer from Primary Stages where it played last season. In this wild farce these two gifted comedians portray multiple roles, the central one of which is an actor hoping to get a role in an upcoming TV series called “Chelsea Boys.” He’s involved with a small theatre group which is presenting an adaptation of an obscure play by Euripides in a former sausage factory in Red Hook. Jenkins and Stanton are the entire cast of this must-miss production as well as the actor’s mother (who is also his agent) and her friend, who sit in the audience and constantly distract the actors.

Love Child is a hilarious celebration of the actor’s craft. That’s its main focus. If you’re a civilian, as was my companion, you might find it more than a little too much of an inside-joke. As for me, I loved it.

Embraceable Me, at the Kirk Theatre in Theatre Row, is a sweet, sentimental comedy by Victor L. Cahn about a man and a woman who are Perfect For Each Other, in a “When Harry Met Sally” kinda way, but who don’t embrace the inevitability of this until at least ten years after they first meet as two college students. Most of the play consists of direct address to the audience, back and forth between the two. Usually, I find this playwriting technique annoying, but Cahn’s writing is so witty and the two actors (Scott Barrow and Keira Naughton) are so charming that I was quickly hooked and wound up being enchanted; but then, I am an Old Softy who loves a love story told without a drop of cynicism.

Finally, I caught one of the last performances of Inventing Avi by Robert Cary and Benjamin Feldman, at Abingdon Theatre. I am a fan of Abingdon, having published four plays they premiered in my annual New Playwrights series. They do fine productions, mostly of plays by playwrights who are hardly household names (at least, in theatre-people households). Cary and Feldman have a few writing credits, but nothing I have ever seen. So, this was in this sense a typical Abingdon production.

The play was about an aspiring playwright who supports himself by working for a vacuous, wealthy woman with little taste who produces bomb after bomb with her husband’s money. Call her sort of a Maxine Bialystock. Our Hero has written a play which just could be a great new play which will give Tony Kushner a run for the money; but he can’t get his boss to read it. Then her circumstances change when her husband calls to tell her they have lost all their dough in some sort of Ponzi scheme, which mystifies Maxine (sorry, the character’s name is Judy). Meanwhile, Our Hero has met a young actress named Amy, one of whose many jobs is as a personal assistant to Judy’s sister, a soap opera actress named Mimi who sits on the board of a non-profit organization which supports Jewish-themed plays. Amy sees an opportunity for herself, and hatches the idea to persuade Mimi to star in the play. Since Judy won’t consider a play written by her assistant and because the non-profit will only give money if a play is by a Jewish writer, Amy brings a front into the project, her scene partner, who poses as an Israeli playwright and actor named Avi. The problem is, Judy and Mimi hate each other; but Judy is forced to work with her sister because it’s the only way she can get the play on. She has bought Amy’s ruse completely, and is not only producing “Avi’s” play but hires him as both lead actor and director. Eventually, the play becomes a huge hit – but nobody knows that Our Hero is the playwright.

In the Real World, there are no Judys, just as there haven’t been any Max Bialystocks for 40 years. There are no solo producers who raise money and present a play on Broadway, as they used to do in Olden Times. The people who call themselves “producers” are mostly people who finance pre-sold (via good reviews) commercial transfers. One of the most prominent of these people is Daryl Roth, who brags in her bio that she has produced six Pulitzer Prize-winning plays. No, she hasn’t. Manhattan Theatre Club produced Doubt and Proof, and MCC produced Wit. Ms. Roth financed their commercial transfers. In the Real World, there certainly are no producers who would hire an unknown to both star in and direct a Broadway production. And, in the Real World, a non-profit organization cannot contribute money to a commercial enterprise. In other words, the playwrights have no idea how the Real World of the theatre works.

Abingdon does – or they should. Turns out, this play came with “enhancement money,” mostly cobbled together by Mr. Feldman, who is an entertainment lawyer with a lot of rich friends. Abingdon denies it, but I think this is why they did this feeble comedy. Times are tough, fund-raising is tough, and Abingdon, like several other small off Broadway companies, is forced to get into bed with People With Money, most of whom want to “enhance” plays which are far less interesting than the ones sitting around unread because they are by playwrights With No Money. Let us hope this is a temporary situation for Abingdon.

CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION. Playwrights Horizons, 410 W.
42nd. St.
TICKETS: www.ticketcentral.com. 212-2798-4200.
AFTER MISS JULIE. American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St.
TICKETS: www.roundabouttheatre.org. 212-719-1300.
LOVE CHILD. New World Stages, 340 W. 50th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com. 212-239-6200.
EMBRACEABLE ME. Kirk Theatre, 416 W. 42nd St.
TICKETS: www.ticketcentral.com. 212-2798-4200.
INVENTING AVI. Abingdon Theatre Co. Closed.

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