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Some Plays

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Dear F_____,

As you know, I've been in New York working on a film. They arranged my schedule in a horrible way so that I worked for a day and a half and then had two weeks off. As you know, I've spent a bunch of those days going to plays on Broadway; we went to one together, the one with all the names in the title that were plays on Chekhov characters with "Spike" at the end of it. That was a bit broad, wasn't it? But people seem to like it. A brief rundown of the others I've seen:

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Lucky Guy is a tribute to the late Nora Ephron starring her old friend Tom Hanks and directed by my friend, the great George Wolfe. A group of theater regulars I met one night at Café Centrale did not have nice things to say about the play itself, although they thought that Hanks was well cast in his Broadway debut (I knew he had done stage work in Cleveland early in his career) and that Wolfe did the best he could bringing the material to life, but they objected to the predominance of direct address to the audience. Indeed, the performers say at least 50 percent of their lines directly to the audience, so it becomes a case of telling rather than showing. I didn't find this to be a fault as much as a device that altered the theatrical form from one of dramatic, self-contained scenes to an open, storytelling orientation that broke the fourth wall. Audiences are well accustomed to the fourth wall coming down, but maybe when over half the play is done this way it is off-putting for drama veterans. "Yeah, there was a standing ovation," said the Café Central cabal, "But that's because they paid $150 a ticket. They'll stand and clap for a dog doing tricks with that price tag. And they get to see Hanks." True, but maybe there is something about Hanks in likeable American grub street role that makes the heavy direct address kinda nice, like having your favorite uncle tell you about the old days of journalism.

It's also interesting that this is one of a number of plays that features an expressive discipline that is not dramatic theater within the arches of the theater -- in this case journalism.

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Breakfast at Tiffany's was a more loyal take on the novella than the Blake Edwards/ Hepburn movie, meaning they kept the protagonist gay and they followed Holly's escort storyline closer and more or less followed the structure of the book (although no adaptation I know if has included the mad horse rampage through Central Park and into the streets.

After the play I went back to my hotel and watched the film. It was funny to watch Hannibal from The A-Team play a sensitive writer, albeit a straight one. Wikipedia says that Capote was very upset that Marilyn Monroe pulled out of the project -- Strasberg told her to play against type and she ended up having a horrible time on The Misfits -- but in hindsight it's hard to see Holly Golightly as anyone other than the spritely Hepburn. She makes the sexual side of the character seem innocuous; she's the blithe spirit next door, rather than the cheerful whore. The actress in the play was a brunette (unlike the book), a mix between Hepburn and Monroe, sexed up, but pleasant. We also got a little extra stuff about gay sex at the magazine office (not in the book).

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I went to the opening night of previews for I'll Eat You Last; it's a one-woman play about Sue Mengers, a Hollywood agent who had been famous for her client list, parties and personalities. The real Sue came from an era before; I stupidly told my companion that she was the publicist who was murdered in her car not long ago -- that was Ronni Chasen. I soon learned everything I needed to know about Mengers because that is what the play is: some private time with Sue as she dishes about her friends and her life. John Logan knew that all the stuff that surrounds Hollywood -- all the agent stuff, all the business side of the film business -- is just as interesting as most movies. We're put into Mengers' living room and treated like her intimate friends, so we get to be the Streisands, the Redfords and the Coppolas that used to frequent her parties; we're brought to the inner circle.

Fabulous to hear references to Julie Harris in Member of the Wedding or about Gene Hackman casting lore -- we get dished the juice from bygone eras. The audience was either especially old or -- as Mengers says in the play -- "Everyone in the theater is gay." As I put my backpack on after the play, I almost hit an elderly woman. When I asked if she was okay she reacted as if I tried to mug her.