High Grimes and Misdemeanors
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
You know that feeling you get at the movie theater in, say, mid-January? When you’ve caught up with all the Oscar hopefuls and reach the box-office window to find the likes of “Freedomland” and “Firewall”?
Well, June is the theater world’s January.
Even though the Tony Awards remain stubbornly untouchable for off-Broadway shows, the late-May/June period has long served as a dumping ground for productions (generally commercial productions) trying to sneak in under the klieg lights of the Tonys and a half-dozen other theater awards. Exactly one week after the interminable “Elvis and Juliet” opened, its seemingly firm grasp as the summer’s theatrical low point has received a serious challenge from Roger Kirby’s brain-dead Wall Street farce, “Burleigh Grime$.”
Mr. Kirby is far more concerned with sophomoric topical jokes and tiresome plot twists than any sort of narrative coherence, but let me take a stab at a synopsis: Poor little rich kid George Radbourne (James Badge Dale) signs on to work for the titular tycoon (Mark Moses), who has made millions by manipulating the stock market through alarmist news reports and other slimy deeds. George finds himself torn between easy money, an ill-defined dose of Oedipal rage,and a relationship with Grace Redding (Ashley Williams), the idealistic assistant to slimy financial journalist Elizabeth Bigley (Wendie Malick, who actually manages to make some of her lines sound clever).
Elizabeth chastises the stereotypically alpha-male Burleigh by explaining her theory of “the F-factor,” which states that the usage of a certain four-letter word stands in inverse proportion to the frequency with which the user engages in said act. By this measure, the stage is crawling with eunuchs: Mr. Kirby’s script is riddled with unoriginal and unconvincing clumps of profanity.
Director David Warren – who has done right by the comedic works of Richard Greenberg and Nicky Silver, two writers who do know how to use vulgarity onstage – tries to rise above it all. His rapid pacing gives the production a high-tech polish that obscures some of its many faults, at least for a while. (Michael Clark’s video projections are certainly diverting.) Mr. Warren must share the blame, however, for subjecting the talented Nancy Anderson to a series of humiliating roles, most of them involving thongs and/or stiletto heels.
Besides the passel of marginally well-known television stars, the play’s other selling point is an original score by David Yazbek, one of Broadway’s cannier young composer-lyricists (“The Full Monty,” “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”). Mr. Yazbek has written for an onstage foursome of musicians who accompany the action with a beguiling series of Mozartian string quartets. Just kidding: Two of the four musicians are drummers, and the music is largely of the propulsive, make-money-now variety. These contributions are harmless enough, although the bratty ingenuity of Mr. Yazbek’s lyrics is sorely missing. (There’s another guy capable of cursing intelligently.)
By the time the second act kicks into gear, not even Mr.Warren can maintain any sort of control over the irreconcilable plot threads and ungainly structure. Major characters vanish for long stretches, people change their entire personalities simply to prop up a tiresome new plot point, and the “surprising” twists pile up by the end like so many meaningless red herrings. Mr. Moses’s performance is totally nonthreatening, while a handful of younger actors try to overact their way into respectability. All the while, Mr. Yazbek’s combo wails away in a vain attempt to make “Burleigh Grime$” seem interesting or fun or naughty or anything other than pointless and desperate.
The title character justifies yet another implausible reversal near the wet firecracker of an ending by explaining to Grace, “You do little bad things … when you believe little bad things will let you do big good things.”
True enough. But as “Burleigh Grime$” makes clear, enough little bad things can add up to one big bad thing.
A few thoughts regarding Sunday’s Tony Awards broadcast, which was fairly uninspired and desperately needs to get out of Radio City Music Hall and back into a Broadway theater:
1. It was just a matter of time before a jukebox musical won the Best Musical prize, I suppose, and “Jersey Boys” certainly deserved it more than the dozen or so other entries. (That includes “Mamma Mia!” and “Movin’ Out.”) Is “The Drowsy Chaperone” a better piece of theater? I maintain it is, but “Jersey Boys” is a less indefensible pick than “Fosse” over “Parade” or “Art” over “The Beauty Queen of Leenane,” to name a few recent outrages.
2. The Best Revival of a Play category seems to be the Tony Awards equivalent of a lifetime achievement award at the Oscars – a way to right past wrongs and get an award into deserving hands,even if it means doing so posthumously. Last year, special honoree Edward Albee already had a pair of “real” awards (and may well pick up a few more before he’s done), and “Glengarry Glen Ross” earned David Mamet his first Tony. This year, it was Clifford Odets’s turn to join the pantheon with a strong “Awake and Sing!” revival. The lifetime Tony recipient? Hal Prince, who now has more Tonys – 21 – than he does fingers and toes.
3. Also joining the Tony ranks was the entire slate of acting winners, the first time in almost 20 years that all eight were first-time honorees. More surprisingly, only Cynthia Nixon had even been nominated before, which makes for a particularly exciting new crop of acting talent on Broadway stages.
4. The real winner on Sunday? London’s National (formerly the Royal National) Theatre. New York producers Bob Boyett and Bill Haber signed a three-year deal in 2003 to get first dibs on the National’s productions; the arrangement started off on the wrong foot – an overrated revival of Tom Stoppard’s “Jumpers,” a miscast “Democracy” – before getting its bearings last spring with “The Pillowman.” Its latest offering,Alan Bennett’s sparkling “The History Boys,” recouped within seven weeks and is the winningest play in Tony history, nabbing six awards. (The honor has a bit of an asterisk attached to it, as three new play-specific categories were added in 2005, but is still significant.) The pact has been extended through 2007, and now all Anglophilic eyes are on the next National title, “Coram Boy,” which could reach our shores by the 2006-7 season.
Open run (340 W. 50th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, 212-239-6200).