The Playgoer: Star Casting Brings an Edgy New Play to B'way

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Star Casting Brings an Edgy New Play to B'way

Earlier today we had some buzz of one Broadway show recruiting porn star Jenna Jameson to keep alive.  Now we hear of a quite different case of star casting that is apparently making it possible for an acclaimed new American play to have a rare NYC premiere on Broadway.

You may recall Rajiv Joseph's Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, a play that premiered here in a workshop then got a well received production in L.A. directed by Moises Kaufman. That staging led to a nomination for the Pulitzer--a nomination outright ignored by the governing board, who overruled the drama jury to award a more successful Broadway show that, I think, shouldn't even have been eligible that year, having premiered the previous season.

Now, as if heeding the lesson that only Broadway counts in the US cultural marketplace, supporters of the play are determined to get it there at all costs.  Hence today's star casting in the title role of the "Tiger"...Robin Williams.

Needless to say, Robin Williams is no Jenna Jameson.  (In many, many ways.)  He once upon a time was a good actor, before an inexplicable string of family comedies rendered his name almost nauseating to anyone who once appreciated his gifts. And while this will be his Broadway debut, technically, he did star in that famous Off Broadway Godot twenty years ago, and did train as a Juilliard stage actor. 

But of all things, Robin Williams is not the kind of actor who, um...disappears into the role, so to speak.  So even though I have not yet seen or read the play, and even though I understand the character of the Tiger to be a kind of comic has got to be a little concerned about this much anticipated new work getting hijacked by its star, no matter how well intentioned.

At least Kaufman is still at the helm, though, and will do his best to retain the play's integrity.  I guess it's more the audience's reaction I'm worried about--if they come expecting to see only an artsy version of the comic's latest standup act.


Matt said...

I'm curious what you think, PG, about how stars overshadow any attempt for audiences to get to know a new playwright, or even established ones for that matter. Esp. with Broadway, the writer is almost never the name in lights (unless it is Mamet or a revival). Would it even matter? Do today's audiences care who wrote the piece?

RLewis said...

And don't forget the Gurgis play that will Chris Rock. It would have been just another production at The Public, but now it's going straight to Bway.