A tough sell for ‘Well’

Will “Well” ever sell?

When Lisa Kron‘s play opened on Broadway March 30, the show garnered enough prominent critical raves to make it seem a solid bet.

But money quotes, it turns out, don’t always mean money. For the week ending April 16, the $2 million show grossed a paltry $120,324. And that was an improvement over the previous weeks.

Surprisingly, producer Elizabeth I. McCann opted not to take out newspaper ads emblazoned with all those superlatives.

“Running full-page ads in the New York Times with the same quotes everyone else has doesn’t cut it anymore,” she says.

Instead, she has included the words “final weeks” in recent advertisements to boost attendance. She’ll remove them if sales pick up.

A grassroots effort to snare auds includes an email campaign to theater folk by Kron, the show’s writer-star.

“If ‘Well’ closes, there will never be another show on Broadway without a star in it,” Kron writes of the rationale for keeping it alive. “There will be only star vehicles and British imports.”

Loads of legiters love the show. So what makes it so hard to sell?

Well, for starters, there’s that star problem. Everyone agrees that Jayne Houdyshell turns in one of the finest performances of the year in “Well.” But Jayne is no Julia, at least not in terms of drawing power.

Plus, the show has no logline.

The story — a fractured take on sickness, wellness, racism and mother-daughter relations, in which the show’s subjects gradually overwhelm Kron — is a tough one to sum up into a clear hook.

Some legiters say that Kron hampered marketing efforts by nixing efforts to position “Well” as a mother-daughter story. Others believe the show does not connect as strongly with Average Joe theatergoers as it does with critics and industry types.

In any event, McCann anticipated the difficulty of selling a quirky offering in a crowded season. “The only thing that’s going to sell it is word of mouth,” she says.

And despite the dismal numbers, she’s optimistic. “My advance was double what it was,” she says. “I think we’re going to be around.”

The Pulitzer org’s annual award for drama has raised eyebrows in the past. This year, the org raised eyebrows with no award at all.

For the 15th time in the Pulitzers’ 80-year history, the 17-voter board opted not to give the award to any of the three finalists chosen by a jury of five theater experts.

That’s always an option for the board, as is giving the award to a play not selected as a finalist.

Still, it rankled the playwriting community, sparking angry words in the press from Adam Rapp, whose play “Red Light Winter” was one of the finalists, and Craig Lucas, the book writer of “The Light in the Piazza,” which didn’t make the shortlist.

But Pulitzer administrator Sig Gissler wishes people wouldn’t read too much into it.

“No award really just means that no entry mustered a majority,” he says. “I don’t think the board’s action in one year should be seen as a definitive statement on drama in America.”

Newsday’s lead critic, Linda Winer, topped the jury that selected the three finalists (which also included Rolin Jones‘ “The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow” and Christopher Durang‘s “Miss Witherspoon”) from 27 plays.

“Of course we’re disappointed,” Winer says. “But I actually think the board is saying something about their concept of what the last 10 months were. It doesn’t mean the theater is in the garbage can.”

On a legit ‘Roll’

Brian Cox is getting back in touch with his legit side this June.

The thesp will star in Tom Stoppard‘s latest, “Rock ‘n’ Roll,” beginning perfs at the Royal Court in London June 3. Then, June 11 sees the start of the third season of “Deadwood,” in which Cox has a nine-episode arc as a theater producer.

The actor plays a fervent communist in “Rock ‘n’ Roll,” a typically Stoppardian mix of the scholarly (the decline of Communism in Czechoslovakia) and the playful (the rise of rock). Sinead Cusack plays his wife and Rufus Sewell portrays a dissident in the production, helmed by Trevor Nunn.

Cox has not been onstage since he appeared in “Uncle Varick” in Edinburgh in 2004. “I thought I can’t afford to do theater,” he says, only half-kidding. “But Tom had written the part with me in mind, so I’m selling my children and having a yard sale.”

On “Deadwood,” he plays impresario Jack Langrishe, who attempts to bring a little culture to the show’s eponymous frontier town. The gig gets Cox waxing theoretical.

“The show is an allegory about society coming out of chaos,” he says. “And people like Langrishe went through hostile renegades to get their shows on.”

Cox thinks he might be back for season four, in part because theater, believe it or not, does have a place in Deadwood.

“Once you have the whores and the whiskey — your basic needs: a fuck and a drink — then there’s something else that’s required,” he says.

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