The Playgoer: "Virginia Woolf" update

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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

"Virginia Woolf" update

Interesting comments, so far, on my fisking of Isherwood's Sunday piece on the woes of Virginia Woolf. George Hunka points out that the box office is indeed really that bad, so there goes my argument about the tyranny of 90% capacity. (This is also confirmed by Playbill's weekly box office report: last week was up to 52%--from 46% the week before!) Hunka also maintains this is one of the most affordable tickets around, with many discounts. I hadn't heard of the $20 offer he cites, but I can say that if it's in the back of balcony, it's actually no bargain for this one. (That problem again...)

It also occured to me that a factor for the producers in deciding to close is Ms Turner's contract. I'm sure she wants out soon, so who would they find to replace her? Many great actresses around, of course, but to save these sagging sales, one fears something of the Ashley Judd variety...

In the end, to indulge in Isherwood's "mystery" guessing, I think any box office question obviously comes down to whether people really like the show or not. And let's face it: they don't. Maybe the play's too depressing, maybe the production lets it down. Whatever. But what keeps Doubt and Glengarry selling is people have a good time and tell their friends. (Nothing will ever sell tickets more than word of mouth.) Now what does that say about Doubt and Glengarry!

I return to, and stand by, my main point. Let's say it's only selling at 50%. That's 500 people a night expressing interest in this. Imagine how wonderful it would be if a little 500-seat theatre could sustain this play in a fine production. Ah, but of course, that wouldn't be too profitable, would it.

1 comment:

George Hunka said...

"That wouldn't be too profitable, would it?" No indeed. And I agree that, these days, a 500-seat theater seems far more appropriate for such a show.

But ... it's sad, in a way. It's instructive in this respect to remember that, when it premiered in 1962, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? opened at the Billy Rose Theater (now the Nederlander): a 1200 seat house; what's more, it ran for 664 performances, a good 19-month run, not bad for a straight play then or now.

But you really want a laugh? The Internet Broadway Database at www.ibdb.com lists the 1962 production cost at $42,000. (Yes, I double-checked: I'm not leaving off any zeroes.)