Thursday, October 26, 2006

Did Butley Capture Critical Buzz?

Did Butley Capture Critical Buzz?

Last evening, the Broadway revival of Simon Gray’s Butley opened with Nathan Lane in the titular role.

As I’ve previously reported, I caught the earlier incarnation of the Nicholas Martin-helmed production when it first opened in Boston back in 2003. While I”ve enjoyed Lane in everything from Guys And Dolls to The Odd Couple, I frankly didn’t find his portrayal of Ben Butley particularly convincing. I found that Lane appeared to overcompensate for his marginally decent English accent with over-the-top scenery-chewing.

So it was with great curiosity that I read the New York reviews to see if my three year old perspectives were confirmed or overridden. The result: mixed reviews.

One of the more positive reviews came in the three-out-of-four-star variety from the New York Post’s Clive Barnes, who said that fans of Lane’s will not be disappointed. “It's a tribute to Lane that by the end of the play, which opened last night at the Booth Theatre, actor and character appear totally fused...It's a lovely performance….He has the idiom and the touch….The rest of the cast -- with the exception of Dana Ivey's gently embittered turn as a female academic who knows more about Byron than life -- is less sure.”

Less sure among critics is The New York TimesBen Brantley: “Mr. Lane being Mr. Lane, one of the best comic marksmen in the theater, he repeatedly hits the bull’s-eye that automatically sets off an audience’s laughter. Somehow, though, the lines seem to exist independent of the character who speaks them…. But if you were expecting a seamless, emotionally stirring marriage between a first-rate actor and a first-rate play, then Butley disappoints….For this Butley is one of those Broadway shows that achieves a state of paralyzing self-consciousness by trying to live up to its English accent.”

Also providing a mixed review, Frank Scheck of The Hollywood Reporter reports: “The current revival…offers its lead performer great opportunities to chew the scenery…The play itself doesn't seem to hold up particularly well, seeming rather anemic….What makes Butley's travails interesting to watch is his scathing wit, and Lane delivers his verbal put-downs and sarcastic asides with his trademark expert comic timing and vocal bluster. But he uncharacteristically fails to command the stage here, not managing to convey the authority that would make his character's rapid descent moving. It is a fatal flaw if we are to care for this essentially obnoxious, self-involved figure.”

In saying the play feels “creaky” and “neutered,” the New York Daily NewsJoe Dziemianowicz laments that “The not-so-good news is that this 35-year-old play -- character portrait, really -- is showing its age…. If you enjoy heaped helpings of the two-time Tony winner, you'll probably like this production…If you're not a Lane fan, on the fence or expecting a characterization that breaks the Lane mold, this probably won't make you a convert. He plays the part with several of the same tics, mannerisms and high-pitched voice -- this time with an English accent -- all too familiar from past roles.”

Of course, Nathan Lane has all but become the crowned King of Broadway -- thanks in part to his now-legendary runs in The Producers and A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum -- that’s it’s likely that in spite critic’s misgivings, the limited run of Butley will still prove to be a commercial success.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:

Butley Opens Tonight On Broadway (October 25, 2006)
Catching Nathan Lane If You Can (July 6, 2006)
Butley's Back on Broadway at Booth (May 23, 2006)

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At 11 December, 2009, Blogger Archie said...

For a complete archive of Simon’s work for theatre(including 'Butley') try which includes listings and production histories, as well as original production photos, video and audio clips from his radio and television plays.


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