Monday, October 26, 2009

Cromer Watch

So David Cromer's production of Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs opened last night at the Nederlander on Broadway. The Times gave it a mixed but respectful review, others are generally more positive, with the relationship between the two brothers and the set coming in for the the most praise. And all of the reviews focus specifically on how Cromer's direction impacted the play. Some variation on the same formula--that the original production was a comedy with dramatic moments, while the current one is a drama with comic parts--was repeated in nearly every review. Cromer's quieter style was mostly praised, though some thought it attempted to give the play a depth it couldn't support and the Times thought he managed the two-person scenes much better than the full-cast ones. (My favorite quote comes from NY1's Roma Torre, saying that Cromer "could probably locate the human qualities in a head of cabbage.")

So Cromer's career is booming--once Broadway Bound the third part of of Simon's autobiographical trilogy, opens in rep on Broadway, he'll be directing the American premiere of Australian playwright Andrew Bovell's When the Rain Stops Falling at Lincoln Center's Off-Broadway Mitzi E. Newhouse in February, followed by A Streetcar Named Desire at Writers' Theatre north of Chicago in the spring, and, amazingly, Kirk Lynn's Cherrywood at Mary-Arrchie, a tiny storefront in Lakeview above a liquor store. (By the way, I got to appear in Cherrywood at Northwestern, directed by the awesome Shade Murray as his first-year MFA project, and it's an amazing show. It's written as a series of lines without any attribution or dramatis personae, and it's up to the director and actors to figure out who says what and what the play is. I can't wait to see a different interpretation of it.) Then once fall 2010 rolls around, he'll be back on Broadway, in a just-announced revival of Picnic by William Inge, based on his production at Writers' last fall. (The producers of this revival are giving credit to Writers' for originating it, which is an improvement over the producers of Our Town, who as far as I know gave no credit or money to The Hypocrites, who put up the cash and resources for the Chicago production on which the current New York revival is based. That's showbiz.)

So talk about a local boy making good! From the sadly small amount of his work I've seen, Cromer is a hell of a director, and it's great to see him being recognized, particularly since he is continuing to direct in Chicago, not abandoning us for New York. (Or film? Who knows...) I hope he continues to do well in both cities.

One other interesting note--I think that this is a rare, heartening example of the power of critics to actually affect the theatrical discourse in a positive way. I'd say it was the raft of positive reviews for Cromer's Our Town in spring 2008 that first put him on the national radar, and Charles Isherwood's laudatory profile of him in the Times that really put him in the New York theatre consciousness. (Terry Teachout's rave about the Writers' production of Picnic doubtless is the reason that production is the next to make the move, but Teachout is a twit, so I'm reluctant to give him any credit.) It's all too rare, but critics served a part of their purpose--recognizing excellence and helping it to be seen on a wider scale. Hopefully Cromer will continue to produce at a level that justifies the hype he's gotten so far--and we'll be able to continue seeing the work.


Monica said...

I do think that the near unanimous praise for Our Town (I say near unanimous because John Simon panned it. But, then again, it's John Simon) really helped propel David Cromer's career because that helped make the play one of the biggest things off-Broadway right now and really make him the talk of New York City. I think that Charles Isherwood's profile also helped a bit, but the praise for Our Town was probably more influential.

And the idea of a naturalistic approach to a comedy really excites me because I'm not very fond of how comedies tend to be purposely directed to feel as though they're elbowing the audience at the punch lines.

(Cromer's success makes me very happy and I haven't even seen anything he's directed)

Zev Valancy said...

The excellent reviews for "Our Town" Off-Broadway of course played a major part in getting Cromer to Broadway, but I think the media attention to his Chicago work--Chris Jones' initial review and subsequent evangelism for the piece, Isherwood's profile (though he had reviewed Cromer's work before that, which I forgot), and Teachout's review of Picnic--were what got Our Town to Off-Broadway.