Industry Star: Signature Theater Company
The vicious cycle of New York theater economics kept spinning in 2006: Production costs continued to rise, which led to pricier tickets and, too often, artistic compromise. One company found a way to break free of this dismal logic, with inspiring results. To mark its fifteenth season, Signature Theatre Company worked with lead sponsor Time Warner and another backer, Target, to cut the price of every seat for every show to $15. The response, predictably, has been wild: Since the positive reviews for the first play under this arrangement, Horton Foote’s The Trip to Bountiful, ran a year ago, every one of those seats has been filled. Even better, founding artistic director James Houghton produced three shows that eminently deserved to be seen. John Guare’s Landscape of the Body received a sharp revival from Michael Greif and offered another showcase for rising star Sherie Rene Scott, and the company’s season devoted to August Wilson began with rich performances in Seven Guitars and, this month, a lovely, romantic Two Trains Running. The only drawback to Signature’s extraordinary year is that when shows extend—as all of these did—ticket prices revert to the usual $55. It’d be better, of course, if the company could keep prices low to the end of their runs. But even now, Houghton’s $15 ticket is more than just the best deal in town: It’s one of the most hopeful signs for Off Broadway’s future.
You can almost feel sorry for Julia Roberts and Julianne Moore. Appearing on Broadway for the first time, each was slapped down for being ravishing onscreen and far less so when called upon to use her entire body and voice. Yet it’s the directors and producers of Three Days of Rain and The Vertical Hour who deserve calling out, for their cynical casting that threatened not only the quality of the plays but even their success. (Don’t you think Julia’s run would’ve been extended if she’d been any good?) Movie-famous names can be great—Ed Harris almost salvaged Neil LaBute’s Wrecks, and Billy Crudup (see No. 8) was more than adequate in the flesh. But please, producers: Remember that on Broadway, the ability to hold a stage beats celebrity every time. Boris Kachka