Last week, on my way home from work, I took a crowded subway and ended up sitting right next to... Boyd Gaines! Can you imagine?! That's how busy I've been; I have an exciting stage-actor encounter and I can't even be bothered to tell you all about it. Mr. Gaines was, I presume, on his way to work in the hit musical PATTI LUPONE GYPSY. (If you must click that link, make sure the volume is turned way down, or you'll be sorry.) And, in case you were wondering, that Herbie mustache is real.
I haven't been neglecting the theatre, but I have been neglecting to tell you about it! In the past month I've seen both American Buffalo and Speed-the-Plow, because I had the bright idea to do a review of both for the magazine. Well, American Buffalo announced its closing the day after I saw it -- so much for that. And then, yesterday, as I was finalizing my review, this whole Jeremy Piven situation screwed things up even more! Piven!!!
The audience I saw Speed-the-Plow with was the youngest, hippest Broadway audience I've seen in a long time. Everyone around me was buzzing about Entourage and Mad Men while we waited for the show to start. (Well, except for the dude next to me, who was preoccupied with taking up as much room as he could with his coat, umbrella, laptop bag, and unreasonably wide-spread legs, because of course I'm going to sit next to the guy who thinks his personal space is being compromised if someone occupies the seat next to him.) So that was encouraging: young people at the theatre! I don't know what all those folks thought of the play, but I can tell you that Mr. Piven was very good in it, so if that's what they were coming to see they certainly weren't disappointed.
I wasn't there the night Raul Esparza favored the audience with a song (and I'm really sort of thankful for that), but the scolding-of-latecomers described in the NYT's account squares with my experience. The night I saw S-t-P, a few people in the orchestra section (including Mr. Sprawly next to me -- of course) got up during the blackout before the third scene. So after the bows, Piven motioned for the audience to be quiet and addressed a woman in the third row: "You got up to go to the bathroom during the show. It's a 72-minute show. You couldn't wait?" Hee. I should have some sympathy, what with that one time I got sick and almost hurled during a show. Maybe it was an emergency. But this was the woman's response: "I could still hear you on the speakers!" "Oh, great," Piven said. "We'll give you a recording; you can listen to it on your way home."
Anyway. I'm sorry he's gone, but I bet Norbert Leo Butz will be just as good -- in fact, I kind of want to see it again. As for the "high levels of mercury," it is my understanding that mercury poisoning is actually a real and serious condition, so I probably shouldn't make fun of it, but... You have to admit, it does make for a pretty humorous press release. It certainly beats "exhaustion." The Playbill Online report read like a spoof article, especially the long quote from Piven's doctor to Variety. "We're not sure if this is from his diet, which is high in fish, or Chinese herbs, which he's been a fan of in the past, or a combination of both."
Of course, the best response came from Mamet and has been requoted everywhere, so why not here: "I talked to Jeremy on the phone and he told me that he discovered that he had a very high level of mercury. So my understanding is that he is leaving show business to pursue a career as a thermometer." Ladies and gentlemen, the master of his art, David Mamet FTW.
Too bad Mamet wasn't around to talk to the New York Times about the fortunes of the Roundabout's latest musical-theatre project. He could have given Todd Haimes a few pointers on how not to make things worse when you talk to the press. Did you see the article -- excuse me, the "Broadway memo" -- about how this new production of Pal Joey is, er, not going well? Normally I'd be like, "Oh, who cares," because I really don't. Leave the whisper campaigns to Michael Riedel. But I read the story and couldn't help wondering if Haimes was trying to sabotage the show. If the NYT is writing an article about how your show looks like it might suck, and they give you, the artistic director, a chance to comment, and you can't muster anything more than tepid enthusiasm, it might be better not to return their call. "The backstage work and the audience reaction — both positive — have been very different from the public experience in the Internet theater chat rooms and elsewhere, which has given this show bad word of mouth. I will say for myself, I feel like the production is going really well.” Oh, boy, I will just rush right out and get my tickets!
Even better was this part about the replacement of Christian Hoff:
Mr. Haimes declined to respond directly about whether he had been concerned about Mr. Hoff’s dancing.Boy, it's a good thing Mr. Haimes declined to respond directly! Wouldn't want to "hurt Christian"! Let's see, how could you have avoided giving the impression that you actually do want to "hurt Christian"? Maybe by giving a defensive nonresponse invoking "the entire world economy" and conspicuously failing to say anything even vaguely positive about the performer's abilities... Or maybe, rather than helping the paper create such profoundly negative buzz that it renders the next day's very negative review redundant -- maybe you could just say "No comment." Something to try next time.
“You know what, I don’t think any of this is anyone’s business,” Mr. Haimes said. “The entire world economy is falling apart, and many nonprofit theaters are facing grave financial issues. My feeling is Christian Hoff is an absolutely lovely man, and discussing this only hurts Christian.”