Most New Yorkers who relocate to Los Angeles typically complain about things like living in their cars, the citywide obsession with the latest juice bar and exercise trend, and the fact that nobody reads the paper since Deadline Hollywood reports all the news they could possibly need. I, too, have uttered each of these complaints, but when I moved to the West Coast last year after spending my life in Manhattan, the thing I missed more than anything was the New York theater scene. Despite a few exceptions—although movie director Jason Reitman’s readings at LACMA are part of its film program, they’re the best live performances I’ve seen here—L.A. is not a theater town unless you want to catch the touring production of last year’s hit Broadway musical.
I’ve always been a bit of a theater nerd. Growing up, I would sing along to Rodgers and Hammerstein during our long car rides to Long Island, much to my family’s dismay. At school, my friends looked at me like I was crazy when I asked them who the Spice Girls were; my version of a top 40 hit was “Soliloquy” from the musical Carousel. By the time I started college at Columbia, I tried to go to a show a week—often alone, since ticket prices are absurdly high and fairly few 20-somethings seem to care about the theater. While I’m critical about what I like—in general, I think everything is too long, and too many actors put on their “theater voices” at the expense of seeming natural—I’ll still see almost anything.
Since my move, I’ve treated myself to biannual trips home—in the fall and spring—for a week of theater. And I do mean a week of theater, when I’ll see seven or eight shows in as many days. This, of course, is a totally different experience than committing to a single play a week. Careful planning is essential. I make sure to include some musicals and intermission-less 90-minute plays in the mix—I won’t torture myself with a full week’s worth of three-hour dramas. (I once told a film critic that I didn’t want to see a movie because it looked depressing, and her response was, “Is great art ever really depressing?” The answer is yes.)
So, if you have only one week to spend in New York City this fall and you’re interested in catching a Broadway show—or seven or eight—here are my suggestions:
The highly-anticipated revival of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, starring Al Pacino and directed by Daniel Sullivan. Of course, Pacino isn’t new to the piece, having played Ricky Roma in the 1992 film version, but this time he’ll take on the struggling and desperate Shelly Levene, while Bobby Cannavale (shown left) plays Roma. Since the play was revived in a brilliant production only seven years ago—with Liev Schreiber in a Tony-winning performance—some might say it’s too soon. But Glengarry is arguably Mamet’s best work, and with such a strong creative team, why not bring it back? Besides, Pacino live on-stage never disappoints.
The Anarchist, also by Mamet. This new work, directed by the playwright and making its world premiere on Broadway, is a two-hander starring Patti LuPone and Debra Winger (shown right). LuPone, a musical-theater legend making a rare turn in a drama, will play an inmate in a women’s prison seeking parole from the warden (Winger). Although I found Mamet’s most recent new play, Race, uneven—it felt more like a lecture than a story—I’m a big fan of his, and it’s always exciting to see his work. Of course, while he is talented, Mamet isn’t exactly light and easy, and you may want to lighten the mood. And the perfect antidote to cynicism is . . .
The new revival of Annie. Producers held a nationwide talent search to find the perfect orphan, and tween Lilla Crawford certainly looks adorable enough to win over audiences. With theater vet Katie Finneran (shown below) also in the cast and classic song-and-dance numbers like “Tomorrow,” “The Hard Knock Life” and “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile,” this Annie, directed by Tony winner James Lapine, will be a nice break from the jukebox musicals that have taken over Broadway in the past decade.
The Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s production of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? provides a completely different sort of family fun. The latest version features Amy Morton, best known for her performance in Broadway’s August: Osage County, and Tracy Letts, the Pulitzer Prize–winning writer of that play, as George and Martha, one of the most dysfunctional couples in American theater. The play is an unquestionable masterpiece, and this particular production got rave reviews when it opened in Chicago. But be warned—it’s at least three hours long. My advice: Go early in your week.
Craig Wright’s new tragicomedy, Grace, to be headlined by Michael Shannon, is something I was thrilled to read about. In Wright’s 2010 show, Mistakes Were Made, Shannon played a second-rate theater producer who was struggling to keep his professional and personal lives afloat. It was one of the most impressive performances I’ve seen: Shannon was hysterical and physically brilliant, and he’s one of the most commanding actors I’ve seen on the stage. His Mistakes director Dexter Bullard is helming Grace, and Paul Rudd and Ed Asner also star.
Off-Broadway, The Roundabout Theatre Company’s If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet is the American premiere from talented young British playwright Nick Payne. Featuring Jake Gyllenhaal (shown right) in a very dark role, the play centers on a family going through a difficult time—the father is immersed in his work, and overweight daughter Anna is being bullied at school—when Anna’s estranged uncle Terry (Gyllenhaal) suddenly shows up. The play was well received when it debuted in London a few years back, and with Gyllenhaal and Brían F. O’Byrne leading the cast, I’m sure it’ll be one of the season’s best.
Also off-Broadway is The Great God Pan from exciting young American Amy Herzog. Her 4000 Miles and Belleville—the latter to be staged at the New York Theatre Workshop in the spring—are two of the most engaging and heartbreaking plays I’ve read. Her writing is beautiful, quiet and restrained, a welcome change from the over-the-top monologues many playwrights feel they must include during their climax. She hasn’t yet.
In lieu of another musical, for a light capper I’d recommend Bad Jews, a comedy from newcomer Joshua Elias Harmon, also at the Roundabout. The story centers on two cousins fighting over their grandfather’s chai necklace when they come together for his funeral. The writing is sharp and funny, and Tracee Chimo—excellent in the plays Bachelorette and Circle Mirror Transformation—is sure to steal the show as Daphna, the obnoxious, entitled but ultimately insecure lead.
FALL 2012 SHOWS TO SEE
If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet (opens September 20)
Laura Pels Theatre at Roundabout Theatre Company
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Brían F. O’Byrne, Michelle Gomez, Annie Funke
Grace (opens Oct. 4)
Cast: Michael Shannon, Paul Rudd, Ed Asner, Kate Arrington
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (opens Oct. 13)
Cast: Tracy Letts, Amy Morton, Carrie Coon, Madison Dirks
Bad Jews (opens Oct. 30)
Black Box Theatre at Roundabout Theatre Company
Cast: Tracee Chimo, Phillip Ettinger, Molly Ranson, Michael Zegen
Annie (opens Nov. 8)
Cast: Lilla Crawford, Katie Finneran, Anthony Warlow, Brynn O’Malley
Glengarry Glen Ross (opens Nov. 11)
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
Cast: Al Pacino, Bobby Cannavale, David Harbour, Richard Schiff
The Anarchist (opens Dec. 2)
Cast: Patti Lupone, Debra Winger
The Great God Pan (opens Dec. 18)
Cast: Judith Ivey
Photos (from top to bottom): Fernando Leon/Getty Images; Jamie McCarthy/WireImage for Equality Now; Kevin Winter/Getty Images; Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic