I spent some time this week at the Geffen Playhouse seeing two much-talked about premieres. I’d been invited by the theater to see both shows — the first starring Orson Bean in marvelous form as a wise old professor in Steven Drukman’s twisty Death Of The Author and the world premiere of Donald Margulies’ Broadway-bound play The Country House, with a cast headed by Blythe Danner and including David Rasche, Scandal‘s Scott Foley and Sarah Steele, one of the country’s most extraordinary young actors.
But when the New York press agents for The Country House got wind of my plans to see the show, they ordered the Geffen to disinvite me because “national press” — i.e. New York critics — weren’t supposed to be reviewing this starrily cast world premiere of a work by a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright (Dinner With Friends; The Model Apartment) until it comes to New York in the fall under the aegis of the estimable Manhattan Theatre Club. When I pointed out that while, yes, I am indeed a New York critic, but I work for Deadline Hollywood, the press agents dug in their heels and so I did what I always do in these situations: I bought a ticket. I believe producers should do everything they can get away with to protect their shows — except tell me what I can or can’t review. I work for you, not them.
Let me first acknowledge that director Daniel Sullivan’s already confident production of The Country House is a work in progress (which I’ll revisit when it comes to the MTC’s Broadway house) that will no doubt improve as the remarkable cast — which also includes Emily Swallow (The Mentalist) and Eric Lange (The Bridge) — get more comfortable with one another and their lines. Set in John Lee Beatty’s inviting country colonial home in the storied summer theater festival town of Williamstown, Mass., it concerns the family and friends of a theater grande dame (Danner); her self-pitying playwright-manqué son (Lange); the widower (Rasche) of her beautiful daughter, now dead a year from cancer; his sexy fiancee (Swallow); and his daughter (Steele), a student at Yale. Over the course of a few sumer nights, lust lurks, envy eviscerates, grudges play out and a grown son reveals unresolved mommy issues.
So then: Another mashup of Chekhov plays and themes, in this case from The Seagull and Uncle Vanya among others, with a contemporary overlay including references to the restaurant Orso, a Tesla, February in Louisville, and lines like “Shouldn’t you be out having unprotected sex with people your own age?” The odd thing about the expanding crop of Chekhov-referencing plays involving acting families is that they seem unaware of Chekhov himself. That’s one reason why Christopher Durang’s nutty comedy Vanya And Sonia And Masha And Spike was so brilliant: The contemporary characters knew they were caught in a Chekhovian tableau vivant. The Country House has some exceedingly funny moments, as well as poignant ones, but it could use a bit more self-awareness along those lines. Instead, it turns maudlin in an overlong Act II that offers three endings when one would do.
Blythe Danner is joined by Scott Foley (Scandal), Eric Lange (Weeds), David Rasche (Speed-The-Plow Broadway, Lunch Hour), Emily Swallow (The Mentalist), and fast-rising star Sarah Steele (Lincoln Center Theater’s Slowgirl, CBS’ The Good Wife) for the world premiere of Donald Margulies’ The Country House. It’s a co-production with the Manhattan Theatre Club, which will present the play in the fall at its Broadway venue, the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. A comedy-about-family-drama hybrid with the now-familiar Chekhovian overtones, the play begins previews June 3 in the Gil Cates Theater at the Geffen Playhouse in LA, opening June 11. It’s Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Margulies’ sixth Geffen production. Tony winner Daniel Sullivan (Time Stands Still, Good People) directs.
Blythe Danner and Sarah Jessica Parker have officially been set to star in the world premiere of the first-ever play from Amanda Peet. The Commons Of Pensacola is set for a limited off-Broadway engagement at Manhattan Theatre Club, with previews starting October 22 at New York City Center’s Stage 1 and opening night November 21. MTC artistic director Lynne Meadow is directing. Danner and Parker had staged a reading of the play after MTC said it would stage the play this season, and had been expected to have the inside track on the roles. The comedic drama centers on Judith (Danner), who has been divested of her assets and forced to leave her luxurious NY life after her husband’s Wall Street scam became headline news. When her daughter Becca (Parker) and Becca’s filmmaker boyfriend pay Judith a visit to the one-bedroom condo Judith now occupies in Pensacola, FLA, everyone’s motives are called into question. Danner and Parker previously starred together in MTC’s 1995 production Sylvia by A.R. Gurney.
Blythe Danner, Sarah Bolger (The Tudors) and Madeline Zima (Californication) are the first actors cast in Gilded Lillys, ABC’s period drama pilot written/executive produced by KJ Steinberg and executive produced by Shonda Rhimes. Set in 1895 New York City, Gilded Lilys is described as an epic love story that follows the opening of the first luxury hotel in the city and the intermingling of love, treachery and disdain between the classes. It centers on the rich Lily clan that owns the hotel. Bolger will play the rebellious Violet Lily. Danner will play Violet’s grandmother Caroline Lily, the family’s wickedly funny matriarch widow. Zima will play Violet’s personal maid. The project hails from ABC Studios and Rhimes’ studio-based Shondaland. Brian Kirk is directing.
EXCLUSIVE: Emmy winner Blythe Danner has been cast in a potentially recurring role on NBC’s new comedy series Up All Night, which had a promising preview Wednesday, logging a 3.7/10 in adults 18-49 to rank as the top program of the night. On the comedy, starring Christina Applegate and Will Arnett as harried new parents and Maya Rudolph as Applegate’s boss, Danner will play Applegate’s mom. This marks Danner’s return to NBC. She previously recurred on the network’s comedy Will & Grace, playing the mother of Will (Eric McCormack).