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Except for “The History Boys,” which had a solid run on Broadway in 2006 followed by several regional stagings, Alan Bennett’s plays aren’t widely performed in the U.S. He’s best known over here for “The Madness of George III,” the 1991 play whose 1994 film version, “The Madness of King George,” was a box-office hit. The play, however, never made it to Broadway, and neither did “The Habit of Art,” a dual theatrical portrait of W.H. Auden and Benjamin Britten that was first produced in 2009 by London’s National Theatre, then received its U.S. premiere at Washington’s Studio Theatre. I saw it there in 2011 and was surprised that it had no further success in this country: While not without flaw, “The Habit of Art” is both challenging and entertaining, and I assumed that someone in New York would get around to staging it sooner or later.
Hence my excitement when 59E59 Theaters announced that Original Theatre Company, a highly regarded English touring troupe, would be performing “The Habit of Art” as part of “Brits Off Broadway,” a summer festival of new plays that always has fine things to offer (in recent years, most of Alan Ayckbourn’s U.S. premieres have taken place there). No such luck—the pandemic put paid to this year’s festival—but the good news is that Original Theatre Company and 59E59 Theatres are streaming a previously taped version of “The Habit of Art” that is outstanding in every way….
Lovely though it would have been to see a live performance, I’m struck by how fully this webcast version of “The Habit of Art” conveys the total effect of a play that deserves to be staged in New York when such things become possible again….
* * *Read the whole thing here.
The trailer for The Habit of Art: