Gotham critics can be tough to impress. Sometimes it takes 27 years to change their minds.
When the Broadway revival of Brian Friel‘s “Faith Healer” opened earlier this month, the play, which last week attracted a 99% capacity crowd, was embraced by the majority of Gotham critics. In the New York Times, for instance, Ben Brantley called it “a major work of art.” The production went on to score four Tony noms.
Back in 1979, though — when “Healer” flopped on the Rialto and closed after 20 perfs — the critics were not so kind. The Times’ Richard Eder found that the show, which consists of four long monologues, grew “stagnant and tedious.”
Even the few critics who’ve been around long enough to have reviewed the ’79 incarnation amended their views.
Famously vituperative John Simon, the veteran New York Magazine scribe who now writes for Bloomberg, admitted in his recent review, “At the time I referred to (the play) as ‘Rash O’Mon,’ an Irish version of Kurosawa’s masterpiece ‘Rashomon.’ That was unfair.”
In 1979, the headline for Clive Barnes‘ review in the New York Post declared “Friel’s ‘Faith’ Beyond Healing.” The second time Barnes reviewed the same show for the same paper, he called it “a fantastic theatrical experience, outdistancing the current Broadway pack by a country mile.”
The much-praised acting of Ralph Fiennes, Cherry Jones and Ian McDiarmid surely helps, but with an original ensemble that included James Mason and Donal Donnelly under the direction of Jose Quintero, you have to imagine that, as many of the reviews attest, the earlier production boasted solid perfs as well.
Friel would neither comment nor, alas, gloat — the playwright hasn’t talked to the press in 20 years — but director Jonathan Kent posits, “The monologue form threw people in the 1970s. This is the father of a whole genre of play, and we’ve become much more used to it now.”
Does he have a sense of how the scribe feels about Broadway’s newfound respect for the piece? “This is a play that’s very personal to him,” Kent says. “It’s the prodigal son, and he feels like he’s bringing it home.”
Speaking of longtime critics, Howard Kissel, who joined the New York Daily News in 1986, is part of the shakeup in the paper’s features department: He’s no longer the paper’s chief drama critic.
Word is they’re looking for a new writer with a younger perspective, but editors at the News didn’t return calls seeking official comment.
Unlike some of his other colleagues at the News, however, Kissel isn’t out of a job. He’ll write a wide-ranging Sunday column in the News about cultural affairs. It’s something he’s been doing already; a recent one profiled Joseph Volpe, the Metropolitan Opera’s outgoing general manager.
Drama at William Morris
Over at William Morris, Val Day, who reps rising playwrights such as Rinne Groff and Adam Bock, as well as Tony nominee Bob Martin (“The Drowsy Chaperone”), has been promoted from coordinator to full-fledged agent.
And Roland Scahill, formerly part of the touring and theatrical division of the personal appearances department, also is joining the agency’s theater crew.
He’s had a foot in that vicinity already, with his involvement in projects such as “Gutenberg! The Musical,” which recently had a London run, and “Bar Mitzvah Disco.”
With Scahill on the team, “We’re actually going to start developing pieces strictly for the road,” says Peter Franklin, co-topper of the theater department.