Did Critics Put Their Money Where Their Moomtaj Is?
In the last Mere Opinions on Larry's Theatermirror, I linked to the Globe, Herald, and WBUR theatre columns about risky business on the stages around town. The concerns raised by all three were clustered around the paucity in productions of Boston, Regional, or World Premieres in the area.
Well, New Rep snagged the World Premiere of Michael Weller’s new play Approaching Moomtaj. while the Theatre Mirror crew, (Larry, Carl Rossi, and Will Stackman,) all appear to have had slight reservations along with a good time at the theatre, some of the Elliot Norton Critics found it a little more tedious.
The important thing to me though is…How did the Guardians of The Theatrical Canon address the New Rep’s endeveaor.
Terry Byrne, who chastised us all for not being risky enough to mount Beauty and the Beast, found herself so disconnected from the play’s theme that she seemed a little detatched through the whole review. (Not quite as harsh as her Tommy review, which after its printing probably prompted some to send condolence cards to the musicians.)
Aside from the obligatory World Premiere moniker in her introduction to the play, she doesn’t go out of her way to address New Rep’s riskiness in mounting this production. This seems odd since she praised them for their courage in mounting Sweeney Todd, (a project with a built in cult audience.)
*Note: Terry is the best friend small theatre has right now in the mainstream press. She really is going out of her way to mention fringe and small theatre companies in her columns. (Rough and Tumble, Company One, Mill Six, Etc.) In fact, she even went so far as to list, in detail, where people can see theatre at out of the way spaces.
Now that Caroline or Change has closed on Broadway, Ed Siegel will have to wait anxiously to see who will pick it up here, but in the meantime he seems willing to patiently wait through arduous evenings of World Premieres of unkown plays.
Going a little farther than Terry Byrne, he mentions in the first graf, "The New Repertory Theatre has pulled off something of a coup in attracting the world premiere.." However, little else is mentioned with regards to this because Mr. Siegel has to save column space for his favorite pasttimes:
1. Plugging the American Repertory Theatre: "So enter, much to this production's benefit, Thomas Derrah as Wylie. Derrah's ability to get inside Wylie's irreverence and keep us guessing about the character's machinations and motives provides the spice of "Moomtaj." His Wylie is the kind of guy who reminds you what it was like to inhale, and then inhale some more, with or without "White Rabbit" playing in the background. The interplay between American Repertory Theatre veteran Derrah and New York actor Robert Prescott as Walker is terrific…"
2. Comparing Theatre to the Movies: "When you compare the people and the metaphors of 'Approaching Moomtaj' to their counterparts in a similar exercise, 'The Singing Detective,' 'Moomtaj' seems like a landscape still in need of artistic development."
Bill Marx, who made the strongest and clearest argument for " world" premieres, knows he has to spend some time addressing this and he does so by gritting his teeth and getting it over with in the first sentence:"The New Repertory Theatre kicks off its 20th season with something risky and that is to be congratulated. Not only is "Approaching Moomtaj" a world premiere production but it is also a play that deals with the reverberations of 9/11 in the American psyche."
However, the formalities end there. For even though Moomtaj is a World Premiere by a known playwright, it has three strikes against it: the playwright is American, the Play was written after George Bernard Shaw’s passing, and it tries to deal with technology as an impact on our lives. In other words, it already has three limbs cut off when starting the Highbrow steeplechase.