I’m often asked at the start of a new season what shows people should see. I wish I could tell you. But I haven’t seen them yet! Actually, that’s not true. The brave new season has only just begun and I’ve already seen about 15 of the shows. So have you. They’re called revivals.
There are so many revivals this year that they would tax the skills of a necrologist. How many times do they expect us to see Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park, or David Mamet’s American Buffalo? You could save yourself a bundle and rent the movie instead. (But you’ve already seen the movie.)
Does the nonprofit Roundabout Theatre see its decision to revive the old courtroom potboiler 12 Angry Man as inspiring? By now, the movie version of Reginald Rose’s 1950’s melodrama with Henry Fonda must have been seen by just about everyone on Earth. Everyone knows what happens in the end. It’s not a play that’s particularly highly rated. What’s the point of reviving it?
But let’s not drift into bitterness yet awhile. In a new season swamped by revivals, there’s still a lot worth seeing. Why, some of them are even revivals. Here are a bunch of shows I’m looking forward to this autumn.
Craig Lucas’ unusual 1988 comedy, Reckless, starring Mary-Louise Parker, currently in previews at the Biltmore, is a striking play about a loopy woman, Rachel, who flees her idyllic home when she discovers her husband has taken a contract out on her life. For myself, the extra interest this time round will be the contribution of the remarkable Ms. Parker. In a form of natural, honest lyricism, few other American actresses can equal her tenderness and vulnerability.
The big Broadway revival of Jerry Herman’s La Cage Aux Folles should set the gay lib movement back about 20 years. But I thought that when I first saw it in 1984. In the end, there’s something very sweet and appealing about the show’s cross-dressing fruitcakes. They ham what they ham. The show, with its cast of 32, stars the riotous Gary Beach and Daniel Davis, both of whom give high camp a good name.
The only new Broadway musical this fall is entitled Brooklyn, the Musical. Excited? True, there have been more seductive titles. It’s also a first-time musical by its two creators. But this is the thing: You never know. The name of my particular game is never, ever to prejudge a show, unless Al Pacino is playing Herod. Brooklyn, the Musical is about a waif named Brooklyn who’s in search of her father. But on the face of it, who knew about a waif who falls for a professor of phrenology and speech? ( My Fair Lady.)
I will see anything by my favorite Shakespearean troupe, Cheek by Jowl (and therefore forgive anything by them, too). Their fantastic all-male As You Like It was one of the top three Shakespeares I’ve ever seen. The challenge of Declan Donnellan and Nick Omerod’s new production of the tragedy about a dropped handkerchief, Othello, will be, of course, what they can bring to it. How can they help us see Othello with new eyes? If anyone can, they can. It’s playing at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Oct. 5 to 9.
Peter Dinklage (of The Station Agent) is not, incidentally, the first dwarf to play Richard III. George Wolfe of the Public tells how he saw Mr. Dinklage’s magical performance as the railway fanatic in The Station Agent and thought, in effect, “That’s our Richard!” And that’s just about the last connection most of us would have made. Mr. Dinklage, who played essentially the sweetest of men in the film, here plays Shakespeare’s most notorious psychopath. Hence my interest in seeing Mr. Dinklage put himself to the fire in the bold new production. Richard III is currently in previews at the Public.
The big British import is Michael Frayn’s acclaimed Democracy, the surprising drama inspired by the career of the former West German chancellor, Willy Brandt. I’ll whisper this: Against the critical grain, I found Mr. Frayn’s equally acclaimed exploration of nuclear physics, Copenhagen, as dry as a bone. For myself, it was like listening to a radio play. But perhaps I got it wrong. Democracy comes to town so highly regarded that it must be seen. Directed by the estimable Michael Blakemore, previews begin at the Brooks Atkinson on Nov. 9.
Also in November, one of America’s finest playwrights, August Wilson, brings us Gem of the Ocean, with Phylicia Rashad. I would never miss anything this supreme storyteller has to say to us. Gem of the Ocean is the ninth of his remarkable 10-play cycle of African-American history born in tragedy and yearning. The closer Mr. Wilson gets to the end of his cycle, the more mystical he becomes. He may drive himself mad. He has no choice. He’s after the very soul of life, nothing less.
There’s an important production coming in November to the New York Theatre Workshop by my favorite British dramatist, Caryl Churchill. A Number is apparently about human cloning. But not necessarily. Ms. Churchill constantly surprises us. A literal response to her work no more applies than it does to a poem. The London production at the Royal Court starred the greatest actor in England, Michael Gambon. (Note to fans of Sir Ian McKellen: Kindly resist sending me indignant e-mails, O.K.?) In New York, the star is the fascinating and unexpected choice of Sam Shepard, who hasn’t appeared onstage for 30 years. Mr. Shepard is putting himself to the fire, too. Caryl Churchill’s A Number must be seen.
When you tune into the Academy Awards, who do you prefer as host—Whoopie Goldberg or Billy Crystal? “And our host for the evening is Whoopie Goldberg!” Admit it: Your first thought is, “Where’s Billy?” Because we love Billy. Between Whoopie, the revival of Ms. Goldberg’s Broadway solo of 20 years ago, or 700 Sundays, Billy Crystal’s new autobiographical solo at the Broadhurst, I’m very much looking forward to Mr. Crystal. He’s a treat. Life perks up when he’s around.
So you see, there’s more to this season of revivals than meets the jaundiced eye. There’s the uncompromising Neil Labute’s new play, Fat Pig, which sounds wonderfully sick. Edie Falco and Brenda Blethyn star in Marsha Norman’s best play, ’Night Mother. Paula Vogel’s best play, The Baltimore Waltz, receives a prestige revival in her Signature season. And among many other shows to anticipate, Martha Clarke’s new experimental piece in song and dance at Lincoln Center, Belle Epoque, should be well worth seeing. Ms. Clarke is one of the very best.
That’s quite a few to be going on with, yes? Good luck to all of them, and welcome to the new season.