This Week on Stage: Ethan Hawke and Sarah Jessica Parker return, Spider-Man swings out

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Image Credit: T. Charles Erickson

After three years on the boards, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark has decided to call it quits on Jan. 5 after a tumultuous, headline-grabbing ride on Broadway that will result in a reported $60 million loss. Will producers be leery of investing in the next wave of in-development super-musicals (including a buzzed-about King Kong that is eyeing New York after a successful run in Melbourne). Meanwhile, this week’s openings are significantly less costly, including Ethan Hawke’s first Shakespeare turn on Broadway in 10 years, Tony winner Jefferson Mays in an eight-role bonanza, a first-time play by actress Amanda Peet with some heavy-hitting leads, and Pretty Little Liars’ Keegan Allen and ubiquitous movie heavy James Badge Dale in a new bro play (click on the links below for full reviews):

The Commons of Pensacola The Madoff scandal influences another play, this time the playwriting debut of actress Amanda Peet. The biggest coup: Stage and screen titans Sarah Jessica Parker and Blythe Danner play the leads. Senior writer Jessica Shaw was less than enchanted by the results, though she has great things to say about Ms. Danner: “The show belongs to Blythe Danner… she brings class and wit…even when asked to pass gas.” EW grade: B-

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder  Wodehouse farce and classic musical theater blend together for this regional smash that has made its way to Broadway, with Jefferson Mays in arguably the toughest workout on Broadway playing the eight members of a homicidally unlucky family. Senior editor Thom Geier calls Mays’ performance “jaw-dropping” and adds, “no one is likely to get sick of the black comedy in A Gentleman’s Guide, which remains winsome and charming despite an alarming surfeit of devious and devilish characters. Quite simply, it’s a bloody good time.” EW grade: A

Macbeth In Lincoln Center’s bold new take on The Scottish Play, Ethan Hawke plays the beleaguered king and Anne-Marie Duff makes her Broadway debut as his scheming wife. According to EW’s Melissa Rose Bernardo, the Witches take center stage in this revival. “The craggy all-male trio of Malcolm Gets, John Glover, and Byron Jennings — pull all the strings, popping up in minor roles and causing toil and trouble at every turn” she writes. As for Hawke, she adds: “Though his scruffy, still-boyish looks suggest the prototypical Hamlet, Hawke makes a very convincing (and wonderfully sleazy) Scottish king.” EW grade: B-

One Night…  True Blood’s Rutina Wesley, who had a fiery turn a few seasons ago opposite Jonathan Groff in The Submission, returns to the stage in Charles Fuller’s new Off Broadway play about traumas facing women in the U.S. armed forces. Melissa Rose Bernardo cops to finding this new work overstuffed: “Operation Iraqi Freedom, hallucinations, PTSD, homeless veterans, rape, sexism, arson, and broken families. How do you pack all that into a 90-minute play? Not very tidily, as it turns out.” EW grade: C

Small Engine Repair  A quartet of guys with questionable histories meet up for a fateful evening in a New England auto repair shop, but senior writer Adam Markovitz wasn’t completely in tune with the Off Broadway play by John Pollono. “It’s a savvily written piece of punchline theater — the kind of play with 60 minutes of talky preamble leading up to one scene that’s funny, nerve-wracking, and ballsy enough to justify the whole show,” he writes. “For more ambitious work, you’re better off looking elsewhere.” EW grade: B-

Taking Care of Baby  Dennis Kelly — who won a Tony this year for his book for the smash musical hit Matilda — enjoys the American premiere of his 2007 British play about a young mother implicated in the deaths of her two young children, and the media circus that surrounds it. The “verbatim play,” as it is known, proved a mixed but worthy affair per my review: “For about half of the play’s two-plus hours, the gimmick is genuinely compelling…. but the production is blessed with a laser-focused principal cast.” EW grade: B

Too Much, Too Much, Too Many  A family copes with loss in this new work at Roundabout Underground, which highlights new works by up-and-coming scribes in an intimate Off Broadway black box space. “The cast gives passionate performances,” Stephan Lee writes, though he adds: “It’s a play in which a character says of another, ”He’s got loss in his voice,’ without a hint of irony.” EW grade: B

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