Broadway Bummer

Great White Way not so great

All that acclaim you hear is hype. Most Broadway shows today stink, plain and simple.

Every year I visit New York City for a week. One of my goals is to take in as much theater as I can, because New York is allegedly where all of America’s best theater is concentrated.

More specifically, Broadway is where all of America’s best theater is concentrated, or so we are told.

The problem is that for the past several years, what I’ve seen on Broadway — all the “must-see” shows and Tony Award winners — have been unimpressive at best and downright awful at worst.

This is my opinion, of course, but a great play should tell a solid, well-structured story. It should resonate emotionally and thematically with all audiences, ideally, of any period. It should be original in its execution, or at least be presented in classical form, and deliver on its tone. And every aspect of the play (for the money we pay) should be executed to the highest standards.

Call me crazy, but comedies should be funny.

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The serious devolution of Broadway theater began at least as far back as 2006, when the Tony Award for Best Play was handed to “The History Boys.” The play, which also became a well-regarded film that year, asked audiences to sympathize with an obese pedophile whose students merely reacted to his fondling of them with flattered amusement, while those who objected were seen as unsympathetic.

What? Did I land on BizarroWorld and not realize it?

Call me crazy, but comedies should be funny.

Cut to a few years later, when I saw “Clybourne Park,” which won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Drama and the 2012 Tony Award for Best Play. The execution of this spin-off of Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” was as lugubrious and unimaginative as the story itself.

Here’s the politically incorrect truth: If artists are going to do any content about race, it needs to be a daring and inventive presentation, not a moralizing, ham-fisted story we have seen a million times. For me, “Clybourne Park” was the vastly overrated equivalent of the vastly overrated Oscar winner for Best Picture, 2004’s “Crash.”

The Pulitzer Prize? It was given for what Wall Street Journal critic Terry Teachout correctly described as “a runny egg … peopled with vapid stick figures who appear to be drawn not from real life but from an Eisenhower-era television sitcom. If that’s Mr. Norris’s idea of satire, he needs to sharpen his pencil. Even the two black characters are long-suffering Noble Negroes, a clanking cliché that American playwrights should have outgrown long ago.”

There are countless missteps, but clearly the casting is what got 2014’s “The Realistic Joneses” onto the Great White Way: Marisa Tomei, Michael C. Hall and Toni Collette. How the New York Times review could refer to the author’s voice as “the most singular of his generation” is beyond me. The writing was neither literate nor funny, providing yet more clichéd insights into “the meaning of life” when it was billed as “post-absurdist.”

Everyone’s been brainwashed to believe garbage is somehow gourmet food.

This year I was similarly underwhelmed by “The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night-Time,” the Tony Award Winner for Best Drama. It’s a perfect case of flash over substance, with innovative and intriguing staging. But its overlong story is nothing more than overwrought melodrama about an autistic teen who discovers his parents are divorcing.

The lunacy of audience reaction to this play was evident during the curtain call, when the play’s lead recites a mathematical proof in four minutes. The audience wildly applauded as if it was the autistic teen doing it rather than an actor who is trained and paid to do so. Everyone’s been brainwashed to believe garbage is somehow gourmet food.

For my money, you can do no better than an evening at Punchdrunk’s “Sleep No More” in New York. This adaptation of “MacBeth” is like walking into someone’s completely production-designed, musically enhanced, perfectly underlit nightmare. It’s an immersive and interactive theatrical and dance experience unlike any other, one that pushes the boundaries of both theater and how we actually experience it, with a plot that intentionally defies description.

For my money, that is the show to seek out until Broadway gets its act together again.

Lawrence Meyers spent 13 years in Hollywood as a writer and producer and is the author of three books on pop culture.

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