The Playgoer: MTC Woes

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Friday, October 13, 2006

MTC Woes

Here's Eric Grode's lede today in the Sun for his "Losing Louie" review:

It's far too early to say with any confidence that "Losing Louie" will be the worst play of the season. Given Manhattan Theatre Club's woeful track record at its Biltmore Theatre space ("After the Night and the Music," "Drowning Crow," a tin-eared revival of "Absurd Person Singular"), Simon Mendes da Costa's numbing exercise in familial hostility may even see some inhouse competition before the year is out. But it sets the bar mighty low.
Now I'm not saying this represents any consensus on the show yet. (So far, Isherwood is also sour, but Barnes in the Post is tolerant.) And I'm really trying not to pass judgment on this play without seeing it.

But one has to ask--does Manhattan Theatre Club really hope to lick the "Biltmore curse" with this obscure London hit that no one here was demanding to see? By all means, fail with something that advances The American Theatre, or gives a chance to a promising young writer. (In this way "Drowning Crow" was at least a more noble failure.) But sacrifice your shaky finances and declining reputation on this?

I don't believe I'm the only blogger to receive anonymous harangues lately, warning of MTC's internal chaos, labor troubles, and overall imminent demise (at least of its leadership). Who knows what's really going on, and obviously it must be stressful, since they've taken on a huge expense with this massive Broadway house...Whatever the future holds for them, at least their mistakes can serve as an object lesson, a cautionary tale for nonprofits. Namely, beware of trying to make hits. Beware mortgaging your whole enterprise for the sake of Broadway approval. Maybe these play selections reflect the passionate personal tastes of the MTC team. Maybe they would proudly admit no one's going to make a hit with a "Drowning Crow" or "Losing Louie," or revivals of moderately successful Ayckbourn and Donald Margulies plays from the 80s. But in that case--why buy up the expensive real estate and advertising of the Broadway arena if you have nothing to realistically contribute to it?

MTC has had a long history of nurturing playwrights and usually small plays in small productions that, sometimes, later transferred to commercial success. (Proof, Doubt, Love Valor Compassion, Fuddy Meers.) That niche was very valuable to the NY scene. And even their revivals would serve a purpose, if lovingly and intimately done in their smaller spaces.

But there's nothing sadder than seeing someone try to be commercial who just has no instinct for it. The Roundabout has already cornered the market in selling out gloriously. Why compete?

1 comment:

Damien said...

I think you make several really good points here, Playgoer (although I assume in MTC's calculus, "Rabbit Hole" would certainly have to count as a Biltmore success). The house, right now, seems like a gigantic missed opportunity. But I wonder if this is really an object lesson for nonprofits, as you say, or just a problem of really bad, consistently risk-averse taste in plays.