Just in case you were huffing glue and thought that the last year in theater was utterly perfect and special, we’d like to remind you that a lot of shows kind of sucked. Here they are, in no particular order of suckage. And may the stagedoor not hit them on the way to non-recoupment…
Raul Esparza in Leap of Faith
In general, we’ve always believed we’d watch Raul Esparza — one of the most dynamic, compelling actors of his age — read the phonebook. By which we mean we were pretty sure there’s nothing we wouldn’t watch him do. That is. Until we saw him play con-man/preacher Jonas Nightingale in Leap of Faith last spring. Seeing Raul suck so hard was so profoundly depressing you couldn’t even pay us to sit through it ever again. Perhaps it was his dramatic over-acting, scream-singing, or not-so-subtle, mid-show eye rolling at shitty material that was clearly beneath him, but Raul kind of broke our spirits with his badness. Quick, someone cast him in some Shakespeare before we lose faith completely!
Jessica Chastain in The Heiress
Hollywood’s “It Girl” is Broadway’s hottest mess this season — so much so that even Ben Brantley couldn’t help but notice that her character in this classic American play seemed developmentally challenged. Working super, duper hard to play “unattractive” and delivering her lines like a kindergarten teacher on downers, Chastain’s train wreck of a performance left us agog. It also made us wonder why director Moises Kaufman let his pretty leading lady — who by all onscreen accounts can actually act — drown so soundly and solidly. We know who she won’t be thanking when she wins that Oscar…
It’s like David Mamet knew Glengarry, Glen Ross would make our best list, and he felt that to be fair to the universe he should write and direct one of the year’s worst plays. You know, just to balance things out. Enter The Anarchist, a play so bad it made 60 minutes feel like a lifetime. A really, really boring lifetime. Honestly, who’da thunk seeing Patti LuPone play a convicted murderer could possibly be anything other than batshit? Mamet did, apparently, because he wrote her — and costar Debra Winger — into a corner with soggy, pointless dialogue and a plot that went… well… we don’t know where it went. Nowhere, we guess.
It was all over by they time they got to the boxed wine joke. For those of you lucky enough to be spared this dismal play, let us fill you in: In Theresa Rebeck’s show about family life in the ‘burbs (and nine thousand other poorly-considered things), there is a joke about boxed wine, and how it’s imbibed by bumpkin non-city-dwellers. The purpose of this joke to demonstrate that suburbanites and/or midwesterners have no real sense of taste or culinary knowledge — a low-blow, low-brow gag designed so an urban audience will chortle over how sophisticated they pretend to be. Except here are several things that Theresa Rebeck forgot, in no particular order. 1. People in New York drink boxed wine now, without irony. 2. They started doing so at least three years ago. 3. Absolutely none of this is funny. The rest of the play is equally banal, and not even Norbert Leo Butz, working his face off to find something — a laugh, a shard of genuine insight — could make it less so. Katie Holmes is there too, but it’s not her fault. We would describe the ending to you, but you’d think that we did drugs at intermission and hallucinated the whole thing. One upside, though: At least, by that point, it was over.
Oh, how we wanted this to be good! Featuring Andrew Lloyd Webber’s best score and the American debut of the much-buzzed-about Elena Roger, we wanted to lose our Evita cherries to a truly great production. Except that this revival totally, unabashedly sucked. Blandly performed — seriously, how dare they? — and drained of all its satiric bite, this revival actually thought it was a serious musical about how great and special Eva Peron was. Maybe we’re attaching a lot of romantic ideas to Hal Prince’s original production, which we never saw, but we can’t help but believe that his winking, stark-and-dark take on the material was probably a whole lot more interesting.
Bring It On
Stop pandering to us, Broadway! Yes, we are woman. Yes, we like seeing ourselves onstage in stories that are relevant to our gender and generation, but why do you have to fuck this up so badly, and so often? Lysistrata Jones was both smarter and edgier, and used all the same costumes, and it still died a fast death, so we were questioning the sanity of this production from the get-go. But add the most instantly hateable leading lady in recent memory and a ludicrous plot device that lets her get away with horrible things and you’ve fully lost us.
Nice Work If You Can Get It
Never in our lives have we encountered a “sex comedy” so deeply unsexy. Helmed by Matthew Broderick working his triple threat mojo to the hilt (He can neither sing, dance, nor act…), this show mostly made you feel bad for his leading lady. Enter the gorgeous, deeply underserved Kelli O’Hara, who got a Tony nomination despite the creators’ herculean efforts to make her seem both unfunny and unbeautiful. Teeming with dumb jokes and charmless, utterly by-the-book takes on the Gershwin cataglog, the show also featured scads of half-naked chorus girls — presumably to distract from the total lack of anything interesting happening around them.
Outrageously Priced Book of Mormon Tickets
Hey guys, have you heard of this hot new Broadway show about a bro named Elder Price and his wacky bestie Elder Cunningham? We think it’s called The Book of Mormon, though we’re not entirely positive, because at this point we can’t even afford to think about seeing it. And while we understand that Broadway is a business, and not a benevolent charity designed to bring culture to the poor, huddled masses, it seems to us that things are getting a bit out of control. How exactly is the average American supposed to justify taking their family of four to see a show — one of the best Broadway has seen in decades — when the good seats cost as much as a week and a half in Disney World?
The Last Smoker in America
Every once in a while you see a comedy that’s so bad you get angry every time you’re unable to resist laughing. In a world where Mayor Bloomberg can regulate the size of the soda you’re allowed to buy, Bill Russell and Peter Melnick’s The Last Smoker in America — about a woman rebelling against a society whose overreaching laws wouldn’t allow her to make bad choices, even in her own home — seemed like such a good idea. Unfortunately, by pandering to an audience of self-satisfied, “edgy,” suburban health nuts with no taste, The Last Smoker was ultimately a deeply unfunny, tryhard of a show that made us wish Mayor Bloomberg could outlaw bad theater.
A musical based on a novel set on a wind-whipped English estate? Where people will be in period dress? And some crazy shit happens and an entire staircase burns to the ground ON STAGE?! Rebecca basically sounded like the most amazingly craptacular thing that ever existed, and we were dying to see it. Which is why its implosion sucked so hard. Jobs were lost, money was wasted and reputations were damaged and that all sucked. But most of all, we were sad to lose the chance to see a new musical on Broadway, especially one that had the potential to be truly, gloriously, so-over-the-top-bad-it’s-amazing, craptacular.