FIERCE ANTICIPATION: The Natalie V. Hall Edition [Broadway Edition Part Deux (Trois?)]


ARCADIA, starring: Billy Crudup, Raul Esparza, Grace Gummer, and some hottie named Tom Riley.

No brainer. I love ARCADIA. LOVE IT. It makes me all hot and bothered and emotional and sad. We read it in my senior year English AP class and by the time the class finished it I had read it about 13 times and broken down sobbing at the end every single time. I once made a cake shaped like the Mandelbrot set because of this play. Because I mean, what’s not to love? The play is about literature, and history, and entropy, and mathematics, and HEDGES, and sex, and love, and paradise, and BYRON and hermits! And the Library at Alexandria for Christ’s sake! Formally it is just as beautiful and interesting, and it’s really just a perfect play. Not that I’m biased or anything.

Now as everyone knows, Mr. Billy Crudup here is an old hat at Stoppard and played Septimus Hodge in the first American production. (Let’s take a moment to talk about Septimus Hodge. My ideal lover, the man of my dreams. The perfect storm of hard-edged and sexy with vulnerable nougat inside. Every girl wants a man who will be so distraught after her premature death that he turns into a crazy bearded hermit, right? Right guys? Who I really would have loved to see in this role is the man who originated it in London, the gorgeous and brilliant Rufus Sewell whom you might remember as a dishy and wall-eyed Fortinbras in Ken Branagh’s film version of Hambone, or as any angry royal misogynist in a lot of mediocre movies of the early 2000’s.) Anyway, I don’t normally trust Americans with the finer points of Stoppard, but Billy Crudup will be lovely as he always is, and I actually think Bernard Nightingale is rather a better part for him. I was a bit surprised to see Raul Esparza playing Valentine, but on further thought, Valentine does have that slippery, evasive, watchful feel to him, and Esparza can nail that nicely (and not just because we never know whether he’s sleeping with girls or boys).

Anyway, the most impressive part of the casting is that everyone else in the cast has a FACE. What do I mean by this? An old roommate of mine had a theory about certain kinds of actors. The kind of actors in new sitcoms that only last half a season. The kind of actors whose names you will never, ever remember, and if you do, you will never connect the name with a face. These are “no-face” actors. Perfectly nice, good-looking people whom you could never pick out of a line-up. None of them turn up here. Not even that delicious little morsel of a man playing Septimus Hodge, Tom Riley. Let’s hope he takes this role and parlays it into a great career, and doesn’t get conned into playing some variation of Mr. Whickam in a tawdry Austen spin-off…oh wait, he already did? Oh.


HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT TRYING, starring: Daniel Radcliffe, John Larroquette and Anderson Cooper (in voice over)

Oh, bother. Where to start. This pains me. Really, it does. I love this show. I played Bud Frump in my freshman year of high school. (It was an all-girls Catholic boarding school, so…) I love Daniel Radcliffe, (but only through the transitive property of the Harry Potter books – I thought the movies were generally dismal, and dismally general) and if you’ve ever seen his episode of Inside the Actor’s Studio, he really is a darling, smart and self-deprecating young man.

But I can’t help it; I just don’t think this is the right role for him.

Oughtn’t J. Pierrepont Finch be a little older, and really ferociously American? Or Mexican? I think for the show to work, you need a sort of manic energy and purpose to the character that makes sense of his relentless, ridiculous ambition. Robert Morse (who plays Finch in the 1967 film, and who originated the role on Broadway) leaps around like a sweaty, bug-eyed gerbil on a meth binge. Somehow this manages to be both charming and authentic, and I get why I’m supposed to like this blue-collar window washer who so desperately wants the corner office. Daniel Radcliffe would actually be better suited to the role of Bud Frump, the mealy-mouthed milk-sop nephew of the big boss – after all, I’ve never seen him in better form than on Ricky Gervais’s EXTRAS, and it might be a really nice change for him to play the comedian. He would, at any rate, be better than the RAGE-inducing kid currently playing Frump, one Christopher J. Hanke. Do me a favor. Click on the below video.

I know this kid. Not personally, mind you, but I know him. This is one buff, good-looking motherfucker who clearly cracks himself up and charms the panties off casting agents. I’m sure he has a great belt and a shiny little theater face. I’m sure they have all convinced themselves that if they put some glasses on him, and he turns his performance up to 11, it’ll be just perfect, just hilarious. But there’s no CONTENT. There’s no THERE there. Ok, so I know absolutely nothing about the guy, but watch that clip and I dare you to disagree. So put Daniel Radcliffe as Bud Frump and fill the lead with……….Mos Def. As for the rest of them, well, is it such a crime that I’d readily replace John Larroquette and Anderson Cooper with Alec Baldwin and Brian Williams? All I’m asking for is a little goddamn gravitas, people. Is that too much to ask? However, it’s really the show’s YouTube “trailer” that depresses the hell out of me. The voiceover is literally this: “How to succeed on Broadway. Step 1: get stage and screen star Daniel Radcliffe. Step 2: get a Pulitzer Prize-winning Best Musical. Step 3: get your tickets today.” This had to be the EXACT log line they used to pique the interest of backers, and it makes me want to go out back and shoot the crippled horse of theatrical innocence in the head.


SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH starring Nicole Kidman and James Franczzzzzzzzzzzz….

…Oh sorry, I just completely forgot to care about this. Granted, my hatred for this proposed piece of theatre was a slow burn. When I first heard about it I thought “Hmm. Tennessee Williams. Those two. Might be interesting.” Over the next few days, the idea somehow simmered and reduced into complete and utter distaste. At the time of writing, I’d rather work in a tannery than see this production. Now, I like Tennessee Williams as much as any other red-blooded theater practitioner. I spent many studio hours rehearsing scenes from CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF and THE GLASS MENAGERIE. I operated a puppet in CAMINO REAL. But SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH is not my favorite. Mostly, I find it sort of whiny and tedious, and it reads like the manuscript of that really depressed friend of yours in college who took a dramatic writing class and whose final assignment was to write a play in the style of Tennessee Williams.

As for the cast, well…I think Kidman and Franco are perfect for it. Which will make it completely and totally obnoxious. This is not to say that they’re necessarily bad actors, they’ve just never shown much range for me. But range they do not need! Over the hill actress? Boom. Social climbing man whore? Precisely. In fact, the director David Cromer said it better than I ever could: “[Franco’s character] Chance has to be a moron and a poet, and he also has to be fantastically good looking” (NYTimes). So basically, this is a role written expressly for James Franco.

In short, I should want to see this. It should be good. But I can’t help but get the feeling that both Kidman and Franco secretly think they have something to PROVE. And what do you get when you put two narscissistic, fairly interesting actors with something to prove into a middling later play by an American genius in which they play two narscissistic, fairly interesting people? Two hours of massive actor boners intoning dialogue. Kidman and Franco and the pervy ghost of Williams might enjoy teabagging each other night after night, and that’s fine, but I’m guessing 10 to 1 it won’t get me off.