True Lies

6) For two years now Mittelman has been declaring that his final show will be the lavish musical The Rothchilds. I can't imagine how this entry will lure young people. And I will believe the show actually has been mounted only when I see it. The Playhouse has cried wolf on this entry too many times.

In the Playhouse's smaller Encore Room, the first show will be a musical revue called Havana, B.C. It's an attempt to please older people and Latins at the same time, in this case by highlighting Cuban songs of the 1950s. I can just envision the under-35 crowd beating down the doors to get into this one. As for the Encore's second entry, Mittelman says he's "negotiating" but hasn't indicated for what.

Before I'm accused of Playhouse-bashing let me add that few other theaters in the area will be offering anything better. The Actors' Playhouse, where artistic director David Arisco also complains about not selling tickets unless he produces familiar material, is also aiming for ticket sales rather than art. Included in the Actors' lineup are Evita, The King and I, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and two musical comedies, The Bialy Sisters and Six Women with Brain Death or Expiring Minds Want to Know. As far as I can see, the major artistic challenge presented to audiences by Arisco is to sit through some of these works a second -- or, in a few cases, a third, fourth, or fifth -- time.

ACME and the Caldwell Theatre Company continue to mount more creative works, but even these venues stick to recent hits and accepted "chic" plays such as Jeffrey and Someone Who'll Watch Over Me. They don't appear interested in commissioning a new work from a gifted young playwright or combing the country for an undiscovered gem.

So far the only theater that grows in stature, excellence, and dramaturgy each and every year is New Theatre, under the impressive artistic direction of Rafael de Acha. New Theatre's upcoming season is a critic's delight and should be both entertaining and enriching for audiences. The opening play, Sight Unseen, is a truly poignant piece about the lies told in the name of love; while the play enjoyed a fine production at the Caldwell 18 months ago, it's actually better suited to the New's smaller stage. Eugene O'Neill's weighty Long Day's Journey Into Night arrives next, a challenging classic that any director needs courage to stage properly because of its intense scenes and voluminous verbiage.

Also on the schedule: Lanford Wilson's intelligent and contemporary Talley's Folly, a relatively unknown work by Jeffrey Sweet called The Value of Names, and the season-closing Two Bears Blinking, a new play by noted writer Michael Brady.

As the perfect way to kick off this season, de Acha just scored a major coup by gaining the rights to Terrence McNally's recent hit, A Perfect Ganesh, about two American women who find spiritual adventure while on a tour of India. The play will be presented from August 6 through September 11, replacing After 5, a musical revue from the same team that created Relationships; the latter was a light entry that didn't particularly please New Theatre devotees when it debuted last month. As de Acha admitted to me in a recent letter, "Funny, our audiences have grown to expect only heavy-duty drama or a very special sort of high [Gurney, Coward] comedy from us."

I don't think it's funny. I think it's wonderful. And judging by the fact that McNally's agent gave the first Florida rights to New Theatre and that celebrated playwright Brady has chosen to premiere his most recent work at the New, the good word obviously has drifted up to New York. Rafael de Acha packs the houses and still manages to make artistic statements, in spite of a small space and a limited budget. This feat must not be impossible, after all.

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