It’s Friday, and today’s Wall Street Journal drama column is a report on my travels to New Haven (where I saw Long Wharf Theatre’s revival of Tom Stoppard’s Travesties) and Chicago (where I saw Lost Land at Steppenwolf and Romeo and Juliet at Chicago Shakespeare Theater). Two out of three is pretty damn good:
Producer A hires overambitious movie star B to appear on stage in classic play C. Examples: Denzel Washington in “Julius Caesar,” Jessica Lange and Christian Slater in “The Glass Menagerie.” Intended result: long lines at the box office. Unintended consequence: a grade-Z show. It’s called “stunt casting,” and it’s almost always artistic bad news. On the other hand, it’s no stunt when a TV star who also happens to be a seasoned stage performer decides to spend the annual hiatus in his shooting schedule doing some real acting. Sam Waterston of “Law & Order,” for instance, is currently appearing in Long Wharf Theatre’s production of Tom Stoppard’s “Travesties,” and he’s as good as can be….
It’s never a stunt when John Malkovich acts with Steppenwolf. To be sure, Mr. Malkovich is the creepiest of all possible film villains, but he’s also a longtime Steppenwolf ensemble member who always comes back to Chicago sooner or later to tread the boards of his old company. At present, alas, he’s in Stephen Jeffreys’ “Lost Land,” an overstuffed historical drama that isn’t worthy of him, much less of Martha Lavey, the company’s artistic director, who has temporarily abandoned the front office to give an incisive performance….
The only star in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s “Romeo and Juliet” is the playwright, who has been admirably served by Mark Lamos, his loyal and imaginative director….
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