I hit up the Big Apple this weekend and caught three Broadway shows. The impetus for my trip was wanting to see Larry David's debut play, Fish in the Dark. He wrote and stars in the play, which is basically a play-length Curb Your Enthusiasm episode (he doesn't play himself, but he totally plays himself, even including the "Pretty, pretty good" catchphrase). As I love Curb and Larry David's humor more broadly, this was clearly amazing. If you are a big Curb fan, get thee to Broadway. You need to see this. It had me in stitches.
You can totally tell it's his first play. Not because of his acting (he seems very comfortable on stage for someone who says he's uncomfortable on stage), but because of the show structure. The play had more scene changes than I've ever seen. It also had a huge, huge cast by modern Broadway standards. You could tell that he basically wrote a television arc to be put on stage rather than writing a play. Luckily David is awesome at writing televisions arcs.
Seth Myers and Alan Alda were in the crowd (gotta love NYC celebrity sightings...people think seeing a *barf* congressman counts as exciting in DC).
Up next was Peter Gallagher and Kristen Chenoweth in the revival of On the 20th Century. I had little interest in the musical per se (and it did prove to be unmemorable from a musical perspective, though the plot was amusing enough). I just wanted to see Chenoweth live (and she turned out to be even more of a firecracker than I expected!). Turns out Sandy Cohen is pretty good on stage as well. Though the old people sitting around me had no idea who he (or The O.C.) was. Worth it to see her. Would never see the show with other actors, as it's not good enough.
Last up was the best theatrical performance (even if I enjoyed Larry David more) of the weekend: Skylight featuring Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan. Both were outstanding in the relationship drama and Nighy gets bonus points for his character being a Chelsea supporter.
On my walk from the theatre to my favorite bakery in NYC (Schmackery's in Hell's Kitchen -- get a funfetti cookie and thank me later) I passed by Wallace Shawn on the street. Some tourist was talking to him: "You look familiar. What were you in? You were in Seinfeld! Weren't you in Seinfeld?" No, you idiot. He was in The Princess Bride. And Clueless. And apparently was the voice of the dinosaur in Toy Story (thank you, IMDB).
When I was up in NYC last week I caught two celebrity-studded plays. First up was Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance, currently at the Golden Theatre. It marks Glenn Close’s return to Broadway after a long absence and features other Broadway starlets like John Lithgow (who I saw a few years ago at a National Theatre production in London and was floored by). Looking through the program before things got started I couldn’t help but think that Martha Plimpton looked familiar. When I read her bio I had a total nerd freak out – she is the blond girl who quarrels/flirts with Mouth in the Goonies, aka the best movie of my childhood. Turns out she’s had a long and successful career on Broadway. Who knew?
Close and Lithgow are a wealthy married couple dealing with Close’s alcoholic sister (a brilliant Lindsay Duncan), a daughter headed toward her fourth divorce (Plimpton), and their best friends who are having a mental breakdown of unclear origins (Bob Balaban and Clare Higgins). It all takes place in a living room. It’s heavy drama but has constant flashes of brilliant comedy. The acting was superb. It was, quite simply, the best play I’ve seen in 10 years. It’s not around for that much longer, but if you are in NYC, check it out.
The next show I caught (as did Close and Plimpton, who sat behind me in the 4th row) was It’s Only A Play at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre. It was a fun, if shallow play. It’s a another star-packed play, with mixed results. Martin Short and Katie Finneran were top-notch in their comic delivery. Micah Stock, making his Broadway debut, was a bright spot. Maulik Pancholy was trying way too hard. F. Murray Abraham and Stockard Channing were solidly okay. And Matthew Broderick, the purported star of the show, was all sorts of lousy. I don’t know if his character just wasn’t that interesting or if he was phoning it in, but he was like a robot on stage.
The play is, as the name would imply, about a play. It takes place at the opening night party for a play that Matthew Broderick’s character has written that flops. It’s full of quick laughs and name dropping jokes about the celebrities that are at the party but out of sight. Thus the fun, but shallow nature of the play. Most of the jokes are about Broadway, people on Broadway, or people who used to be on Broadway. It’s very insider baseball. If audience members aren’t avid Broadway fans, a lot of it would go over your head. I’m not sad I saw it (Short and Finneran were good enough to make it worthwhile) but I’d take ADB or the SBTB musical over it in a heartbeat.