American Theatre: A Chronicle of Comedy and Drama, 1969-2000

By Thomas S. Hischak | Go to book overview

ACT ONE, 1994–2000
A MODEST RENAISSANCE

1994–1995

Any season that boasted new works by such established American playwrights as Neil Simon, David Mamet, Horton Foote, A. R. Gurney, Christopher Durang, and Sam Shepard, as well as new-generation writers Richard Greenberg, Donald Margulies, and Paul Rudnick, ought to have been memorable, but with very few exceptions these authors came up with second-class scripts. It was a season more notable for British imports and revivals (both native and foreign) than new American works. The eleven original entries and ten revivals on Broadway mirrored the previous season, but Off Broadway saw a slight increase with thirty-six new works and eight revivals. Off Broadway also saw a rise in commercial productions, and more turned a profit than in many a season previously.

As a sign of the times, Neil Simon and his producer Emanuel Azenberg opted to open London Suite off Broadway at a price tag of $600,000 as opposed to the $1.5 million needed to do the same show on the Street. As Azenberg noted, “Off Broadway, 400 seats at $40 makes me a smash. On Broadway, 400 seats at $55 closes me down.” The quick and expensive failure of On the Waterfront on Broadway supported Azenberg's thesis. The Broadway Alliance, after four years of failures, finally had a hit when Love! Valour! Compassion! transferred from Off Broadway to the Walter Kerr Theatre. But it really did not do what the Alliance was created for: to produce risky plays by developing artists. McNally was far from an untried talent, and his play had been a sellout at the Manhattan Theatre Club before moving. Later in the season the Alliance production of My Thing of Love, an entry closer to the original intent of the plan, quickly folded.

Several theatre companies on, off, and off-off Broadway were struggling desperately. The nearly bankrupt Circle in the Square uptown hired Josephine Abady to run things with founder Theodore Mann; they managed to present a full season of sorts (three revivals) but found themselves still deep in the red at the end of May. The Circle Repertory Company was also in trouble, its three founders quitting the board when new co-directors Austin Pendleton and Lynne Thigpen canceled a production. The Circle was also in need of a new home, a problem shared by the Ridiculous Theatrical Company and the Signature Theatre.

After only one year on the job, David Richards resigned as first-string drama critic for the New York Times. Vincent Canby moved up into his position but, like Richards, never wielded the solo power that Frank Rich had in the same position.

Although the Soviet Union collapsed in Russia, conservatism in Congress reigned in the States, continuing to cause trouble for the National Endowment for the Arts. Censorship was much talked about, but, looking at the New York theatre, one sensed a “dare me to be quiet” attitude on the part of playwrights. Paul Rudnick, for example, took on censorship, as well as art, money, and sex, in his The Naked Truth (6-16-94, WPA) but ended up with merely a collection of jokes, albeit many of them very funny. Alex Del Favio (Victor Slezak), a gay photographer currently in vogue, is asked to remove three particularly distasteful photographs from his one-man show. The request comes from Nan Bemiss (Mary Beth Peil), a chic but conservative member of the museum's board of directors and the wife of a Republican senator who is about to make a bid for the presidency. But Alex sees Nan as a repressed woman in need of liberation and counters her request with his own for her to pose naked for him. Nan's frustration with her husband, Pete (John Cunningham), who is having a fling with Playboy 's Miss August (Debra Messing), drives her to accept Alex's offer. At the opening of the exhibit, the nude photograph of Nan is prominently placed so that Pete, Miss August, and others are

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American Theatre: A Chronicle of Comedy and Drama, 1969-2000
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Preface v
  • Contents vii
  • American Theatre *
  • Act One, 1969–1975 - Getting through by the Skin of Our Teeth 1
  • Act Two, 1975–1984 - Everything Old Is New Again 91
  • Act Three, 1984–1994 - Playacting during a Plague 237
  • Act Four, 1994–2000 - A Modest Renaissance 363
  • Epilogue 461
  • Titles Index 463
  • People Index 477
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