This Week on Stage: James Franco dishes, Audra McDonald dazzles (again)

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Image Credit: Richard Phibbs

Lesson learned this week on Broadway: if he does not like what you wrote about him, James Franco will call you “a little bitch”. Franco, who made his Broadway debut this week in Of Mice and Men opposite Bridesmaids charmer Chris O’Dowd, took on the New York Times’ Ben Brantley on Instagram, making it the 453rd silly thing he’s done this year. (Or is it incredibly shrewd and constant self-promotion? One cannot be sure.) In more benevolent news, a bevy of much-loved stage, film, and TV triple threats returned to their roots, including Audra McDonald (channeling the haunted spirit of Billie Holiday, and amazingly so at that), Tony Shalhoub (a nominee last year for Golden Boy and could be again this year), Annette Bening (owning the stage as early 1900s performer Ruth Draper), and the now-film-retired Steven Soderbergh, making a dent Off-Broadway with a new play by frequent collaborator Scott Z. Burns, starring Carrie‘s Chloë Grace Moretz.

(Click on the links below for full reviews)

 Act One  Moss Hart’s foray into the theater world is crafted into a new play based on Hart’s autobiography, starring both Tony Shalhoub and Santino Fontana as the famous writer. Melissa Rose Bernardo checked out the lavishly produced play and thinks that Act One (and two, for that matter) need a little work: “as we watch Hart and [George S.] Kaufman worry and squabble and wrestle with their play-in-progress, the irony is inescapable: How can Act One—a show that spends so much time dissecting and trying to perfect another show—be so unaware of its own imperfections?” EW grade: B-

Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill  The troubled, drug-abusing chanteuse Billie Holiday — who died at age 44 –gave a memorable performance at a Philly lounge just before passing, and five-time Tony winner Audra McDonald takes the reins in the first-ever Broadway mounting of Lanie Robertson’s regional staple. Will Ms. McDonald be adding a another trophy this year? Senior editor Thom Geier has no doubt. “McDonald delivers a mesmerizing performance that is not so much an act of mimicry or even impersonation as it is a transformation. A record-breaking sixth Tony Award seems like a foregone conclusion.” EW grade: A-

The Library  Steven Soderbergh turns his keen, Oscar-winning eyes to the downtown stage, with a heady drama about the aftermath of a school shooting, with an ensemble that includes the above-mentioned Moretz, Jennifer Westfeldt, Lili Taylor, and Daryl Sabara. Thom Geier agrees that the new medium suits him just fine: “Soderbergh may have ”retired’ from movies, but thank heavens he has not completely abandoned directing”, and has much praise for the teenage leading lady, anointing Moretz “a knockout.” EW grade: B+

Of Mice and Men  The ubiquitous and jack-of-any-and-all-trades James Franco can now cross Broadway off his bucket list, with his Main Stem debut opposite comic actor Chris O’Dowd as George and Lennie, respectively, in this revival of the classic John Steinbeck drama. Franco would have a hard time calling our own Thom Geier the B-word given his kind words for the actor (“[Franco] shows a relaxed stage presence and real charisma”) but our review was much keener on his 6’3″ costar’s debut, adding “O’Dowd’s riveting performance is a study in underdeveloped impulse control…though his native Irish accent occasional pokes through, O’Dowd makes Lennie sympathetic without ever stooping to caricature.” EW grade: B

Ruth Draper’s Monologues Though she hasn’t appeared in a Broadway production in over 25 years, Annette Bening has been a steady presence on the L.A. stage in recent years, and her latest starring role is a buoyant solo effort utilizing the classic monologues of the late Ruth Draper, a noted dramatist and actress just after the turn of the century. Laura Hertzfeld made a case that Ms. Bening should absolutely headline more productions,: “It’s refreshing to see Bening, best known for her more serious, Oscar-nominated turns in films like American Beauty and The Kids Are All Right, exercise her comedic chops on a series of over-the-top women…Monologues is a unique double act of rediscovery — of the talented Bening at her most light-hearted and of the brilliant and funny work of Ruth Draper.” EW grade: A-

 

 

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