Broadway's Tony Award Season Gets Its Power From High-Voltage Stars
Faces from television and film add clout to plays opening just before nomination cutoff
People have been complaining for years about the plethora of revivals on Broadway. Theater critics value them highly, however, knowing that a greater likelihood exists for an enjoyable and worthwhile evening. Of the more than two dozen current shows, the best play was written in the 1940s (''The Heiress'') and the best musical in the 1920s (''Show Boat'').Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
In the final, season-ending flurry of new shows (all looking to open before the Tony Awards eligibility deadline -- May 4), four new revivals have arrived, each offering generous artistic rewards, as well as big-name stars.
They include Ralph Fiennes in ''Hamlet''; Helen Mirren, Ron Rifkin, and F. Murray Abraham in Turgenev's ''A Month in the Country''; Mercedes Ruehl and Anthony LaPaglia in Tennessee Williams's ''The Rose Tattoo''; and Kathleen Turner in Jean Cocteau's ''Indiscretions.''
At the Belasco Theatre.
Fiennes, unknown on these shores two years ago, is now a star big enough to sell out virtually the entire run of a Shakespeare play on Broadway.
The actor has already displayed his range by playing the psychotic concentration-camp officer in ''Schindler's List'' and the intellectual, tortured Charles Van Doren in Robert Redford's ''Quiz Show.''
Now, first in London and currently on Broadway, he tackles his most challenging part ever.
Fiennes is that rarity, an actor who combines a supreme mastery of technique with movie-star looks. His ''Hamlet'' isn't selling out because he's a great actor, although he is. It's selling out because he looks the part; he has the kind of dashing, matinee-idol handsomeness that has been necessary to play the melancholy Dane since John Barrymore.
This ''Hamlet'' is a production of the Almeida Theatre Company, directed by Jonathan Kent. It is a show shorn of any gimmicks or pretensions, and it is performed by a superb cast of actors who bring utter clarity and dramatic power to the text. Peter J. Davison's stark set, Mark Henderson's lighting, and Jonathan Dove's music combine to create a powerfully ominous mood.
Fiennes does not offer a particularly distinctive or idiosyncratic performance, merely an excellent one. His one quirk is the breakneck speed with which he races through some passages, but it is not an unwelcome technique; at this point, we don't need to hear another slow ''To be or not to be,'' and even with judicious cutting, this ''Hamlet'' runs over three hours. He is ably supported by Tara Fitzgerald (of such films as ''Sirens'' and ''A Man of No Importance'') as Ophelia; Francesca Annis, giving a sensual performance as Gertrude; and James Laurenson as Claudius.
A Month in the Country
Roundabout Theatre Company at the Criterion Center.
Turgenev's melancholy 1872 comedy, ''A Month in the Country,'' is even more of a rarity on Broadway.
British actress Helen Mirren (of TV's ''Prime Suspect,'' and a recent Oscar nominee for ''The Madness of King George'') stars as Natalya Petrovna, an upper-crust society woman who falls madly in love with Aleksei (Alessandro Nivola), a young student who is tutoring her son.
This dismays her perennial suitor and family friend Rakitin (Ron Rifkin). Her husband is also unhappy, because he thinks his wife is leaving him for Rakitin. Vera (Kathryn Erbe), a young woman who is staying with the family, is also miserable, because she loves the student herself. Finally, another family friend, Dr. Shpigelsky (F. Murray Abraham), is wooing the family's governess (Gail Grate) and trying to arrange a marriage between Vera and an associate who stands to reward him handsomely.
The play is a witty examination of the disastrous pitfalls into which lovers can slide. It requires expert staging and acting: Played too broadly, it can degenerate into farce; played too seriously, it can induce a soporific stupor.