In a most stinging of rebukes, acclaimed British playwright and two-time Tony nominee Sir Alan Ayckbourn has lashed out at all those supposedly glorious Hollywood stars desperately hoping to prove they have the necessary chops for live theatre.
Flat-out declaring that they're "ruining the theatre," Ayckbourn takes no prisoners in an interview reported in today's issue of London's venerable The Times.
Bitterly complaining that many of these glitterati could barely be heard beyond the third row (Kevin Spacey was singled out as the notable exception), Ayckbourn believes that the West End producers are single-handedly turning off potential audiences:
What is happening is that the theatre is being stuffed with the stars’ fans. What they experience in the theatre is a poor performance, and they go out profoundly disappointed and disenchanted. That is another blow for the theatre. You’ve emptied the theatre for a whole load of people who will never go again....We have tremendous talent in this country. Young actors have never been better, but they are fed up with seeing their jobs whipped away by people who’ve chanced by a TV camera or stood in a field taking off their clothes.
So who are the worst offenders? According to Times arts correspondent Dalya Alberge, they include:
- Madonna (pictured above) in Up For Grabs, her West End debut back in 2002
- Matt Damon in This is Our Youth also in 2002
- David Schwimmer in Some Girl(s), in 2005
- Matthew Perry in Sexual Perversity in Chicago in 2003
To be fair, neither Spacey or Close really belong on a list of "Hollywood" types ruining theatre. Both of them are clearly accomplished on the stage and have been lauded for their remarkable contributions to it. For some unknown reason, the online version of The Times story carries a photo of Spacey from his acclaimed turn in The Iceman Cometh -- hardly seems apropos given the story.
And while I've done plenty of thumping about the ongoing unfortunate use of stunt-casting to keep formerly great shows alive that were nearly dead -- I haven't even mentioned the ridiculous things they're saying about Don Johnson in London's Guys And Dolls or Tony Danza in Broadway's The Producers -- I'm left with a "Is that all there is?" feeling when reading through The Times' list of offenders.
Sure, the spectacle outside the theatre each night after Julia Roberts performed on Broadway had to be seen to be believed, even if many thought her performance inside the theatre left something to be desired. I, for one, actually enjoyed Three Days Of Rain.
Sure, the performance of Sean Combs or Puff Daddy or P. Diddy or whatever he's calling himself was largely considered to be underwhelming, but look at how many fans he single-handedly brought into the theatre to see acting at its best by his Tony-winning Raisin In The Sun co-stars Audra McDonald and Phylicia Rashad.
Sure, television star Christina Applegate was a novice to the Great White Way before pluckily showing yeoman's determination and sheer grit in keeping the 2005 revival of Sweet Charity alive, even after it had been pronounced dead. Heck, she even nabbed a Tony nod as her reward.
Thankfully, as this morning's positive reviews of Translations demonstrated, a great piece of theatre need not have a well-known cast in order to captivate critics. Just look at the success of no-name shows like Avenue Q and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
So while on the surface, Sir Alan's comments make for great copy, I just don't buy that the relatively few Hollywood names surfacing on Broadway or in London are going to be the end of great theatre as we know it.
I'll be very interested in hearing what you think.
This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).