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The Brits & The Backlash

Helmers' rough crossings

Don’t point out to Natasha Richardson and John C. Reilly that Edward Hall, the director of their “A Streetcar Named Desire” revival, is a Brit — unless you want to uncork Broadway-sized emotions.

Richardson opens her mouth as if to retch. “I just find this kind of talk … ,” Richardson begins. “It makes me sick. There are good directors of all nationalities and bad directors of all nationalities, and that’s how it works.” Richardson has a right to be sensitive, as this Blanche DuBois also hails from Britain.

Her Stanley Kowalski is scarcely less emphatic. “It’s a conspiracy,” Reilly told a recent American Theater Wing seminar on acting Tennessee Williams. “It’s just that, I suppose, we’re in a very patriotic age.”

True, and we’re living at a theatrical time when it’s harder and harder for American directors to get the training in the classics that enables them to steer heavyweight plays.

Richardson admits, “There’s a lot more of a nurturing environment (in London) for directors to explore a wider variety of work.”

This season, that exploration has taken a trio of Brits to the very heart of the American canon: Hall with “Streetcar”; Anthony Page with “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”; and David Leveaux, by now a veritable Broadway regular, with “The Glass Menagerie.”

“The American theater was my first mentor. I was brought up on Joe Chaikin and the Living Theater,” says Leveaux, who, at age 23, earned a Tony for staging “A Moon for the Misbegotten.”

“There’s a certain extent to which critics tend to consume their own,” he says of the scene back in England. “That’s part of the reason why people swap over to the other side of the Atlantic. People can be taken for granted.”

Page directed last season’s Broadway revival of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” and has segued from Williams to Albee this season. “I’ve got a particular affinity because I trained in America after seeing Williams as a teenager,” says the Englishman. “I studied at the Neighborhood Playhouse and worked 15 years in America, doing mainly TV.”

That said, it’s beginning to look like O-out-of-3 of late for the Brits on Broadway when it comes to Tennessee Williams. A putative backlash could be one reason why Michael Grandage’s acclaimed London revival of “Suddenly Last Summer” never crossed the Atlantic.

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