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Alan Ayckbourn (#110 of 2)

2011 Theater Fall Preview

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2011 Theater Fall Preview
2011 Theater Fall Preview

With Labor Day, summer vacations, and weekend getaways behind us, it’s time again to tune into the city’s arts and culture vibe. The House checked out the wide variety of theater offerings for Broadway and beyond this fall and made a few selections to put on your calendar:

New Plays

This season is notable for the number of women playwrights with new plays on Broadway. One of them is 29-year-old Katori Hall, who makes her Broadway debut with The Mountaintop (from September 22 at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater). In her fictional account, which takes place in 1968, on the night before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in her own home town of Memphis, the playwright imagines a late-night encounter between King and a mysterious woman. Movie and television star Samuel L. Jackson plays the great civil rights leader and Angela Bassett the nocturnal visitor. The production is directed by Kenny Leon, who received a Tony nomination last year for directing Fences. Leon also helms the production of Stick Fly (from November 18 at the Cort Theater), which marks the Broadway debut of another African-American female playwright, Lydia R. Diamond. Stick Fly is a comedy of manners about an affluent black family spending a summer weekend at their home in Martha’s Vineyard.

Adam Rapp is well-known for not pulling his punches, so brace yourself for his latest, Dreams of Flying Dreams of Falling (starts September 13 at CSC), a surreal play that promises to “lift the veil on the lives of two wealthy American families” in Connecticut. The Atlantic Theater Company production features a dream cast which includes Christine Lahti, Cotter Smith, Katherine Waterston, and the incomparable Reed Birney.

Happy Now? at Primary Stages

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<em>Happy Now?</em> at Primary Stages
<em>Happy Now?</em> at Primary Stages

The thumbprint of Alan Ayckbourn seems firmly impressed into the pages of playwright Lucinda Coxon’s Happy Now?, right down to the question mark in the title. And for much of its two-plus hours, Coxon’s tragicomic tale of the disintegrating lives of a group of soon-to-be-middle-aged parents (and a close gay pal who speaks of a life we never get to be terribly privy to) is awfully close to Ayckbourn’s level, with Coxon’s gift for lacerating snipes and inside-out bourgie observations.

As a piece of writing, Happy Now? is often blessedly free of “influence” flourishes, with the musings of its reasonably articulate characters only occasionally veering into writerly wish fulfillment. But it’s truly a pity that director Liz Diamond (operating on Narelle Sissons’s confusing, projection-heavy, busy-yet-not-at-all set) lets down the material by allowing it to breathe a bit too much. It’s admirable to allow for such naturalism here, but it also blunts some of Coxon’s writing and its button moments seem to suffer as a result. When our central couples get together for their dinner parties in a few key scenes (complete with “peasant food,” as one character calls it), the room seems airless when it should be buoyant and vice versa, and its slow-building crescendos of marital woe begin to feel unearned. When the crueler of the two husbands compares his wife to a “bloody double blank” domino, it should sting like a sunburn, but because the evening has been crawling to such moments of revelation instead of leaping, it barely warrants a little itch.