September 8, 2008

White Way Suffers Paucity of New Plays

By Michael Kuchwara

NEW YORK - Where have all the new plays gone?

On Broadway this fall, it will be lonely pair - "To Be or Not to Be" and "Dividing the Estate" - that will qualify as new works in a season studded with starry revivals such as "Equus" and "All My Sons."

"Broadway has been fairly unfriendly to the new play for a while," said Daniel Sullivan, acting artistic director last season for Manhattan Theatre Club, which will produce one of those two new works. "When you are talking between $2 million and $3 million, just to put on a five- or six-character play on Broadway, you can't blame producers for being shy."

No wonder both "To Be or Not to Be" and "Dividing the Estate" are being produced by nonprofit, noncommercial theaters.

"To Be or Not to Be" is a familiar title - at least to movie buffs. It's a stage adaptation by Nick Whitby of the 1942 film comedy starring Jack Benny and Carole Lombard about the tribulations of a theater troupe in Warsaw trying to open a play as the Nazis invade Poland. It was remade in the 1980s, with Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft in leading roles.

The comedy, directed by Casey Nicholaw of "The Drowsy Chaperone" fame, opens Oct. 2. Heading the large cast of a dozen actors are David Rasche and Jan Maxwell.

"To Be or Not to Be" came to Manhattan Theatre Club through a commercial producer, Bob Boyett, who had the rights but felt because of the show's multiple sets and extensive costumes, it was too big for him to take on commercially.

"Dividing the Estate" by Horton Foote arrives on Broadway after a successful off-Broadway run last season. The play, a revised version of a work the 92-year-old Foote wrote nearly two decades ago, concerns a Texas family's squabble over an inheritance.

The comedy will open Nov. 20 at the Booth Theatre with its off- Broadway cast including Elizabeth Ashley, Arthur French, Hallie Foote, Penny Fuller and Gerald McRaney.

Elsewhere on Broadway, it's big names in old plays.

The parade starts with "Equus," a revival of Peter Shaffer's psychological drama featuring Daniel Radcliffe, in-between starring in all those "Harry Potter" movies.

The 19-year-old Radcliffe portrays a troubled young man who blinds a stable full of horses, and a psychiatrist, played by Richard Griffiths, who attempts to find out why. The answer will be revealed Sept. 25 when "Equus" opens.

A lot more will be revealed, too, because Radcliffe also strips to the skin in what is Broadway's most anticipated nude scene since Kathleen Turner briefly doffed her clothes as Mrs. Robinson in the stage version of "The Graduate."

Nobody takes their clothes off in Anton Chekhov's "The Seagull" (as far we know), the master's wryly melancholic tale of unhappy aristocrats in late 19th century Russia. Kristin Scott Thomas stars as a self-absorbed actress in a production cheered by the London critics in 2007. Peter Sarsgaard also is in the American cast. The angst and unfulfillment commence Oct. 1.

There's nothing wrong with a little heroics and they don't get much braver than Sir Thomas More, who had the moral fortitude to stand up to Henry VIII and his desire for a divorce. The play is Robert Bolt's "A Man for All Seasons," and More will be portrayed by an actor of uncommon ability, Frank Langella. The Roundabout Theatre Company production begins Oct. 7.

Arthur Miller always was intrigued, too, by the battle between right and wrong. And the highly moral concerns of his late 1940s drama "All My Sons" will get another airing starting Oct. 16.

The cast includes John Lithgow, Dianne Wiest, Patrick Wilson and, attracting the most attention, Katie Holmes, possibly because some hope to see her husband, Tom Cruise, waiting for her at the stage door after evening performances.

The play tells the story of businessman Joe Keller (Lithgow), whose factory supplied defective cylinder parts to the military, resulting in the deaths of 21 pilots during World War II. Wiest will play Keller's wife and Wilson, his idealistic son.

Theatergoers will also be treated to a battle between two Mamet revivals - each showcasing offbeat casts.

In one corner, we have "Speed-The-Plow," Mamet's cynical look at Hollywood glamour, sex and power, featuring Jeremy Piven, Raul Esparza and, in the role originated by Madonna in the play's first Broadway production, Elisabeth Moss. Look for it Oct. 23.

In the other corner, John Leguizamo, Cedric the Entertainer and Haley Joel Osment star in the playwright's Chicago robbery caper, "American Buffalo," opening Nov. 17.

Originally published by The Associated Press.

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