January’s post-holiday lull — when New York’s ticket-buying tourists flee the city — is never kind to theater grosses. Add 20-plus inches of snow and you get last week’s Broadway box office freeze, when even the top earners — Wicked, The Lion King, Jersey Boys, American Idiot, and Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark, which is still in previews — played to only 85 percent capacity. But things are looking up for the beginning of February: Melissa Etheridge stepped into American Idiot as drug pusher St. Jimmy on Tuesday for a one week stint; no word yet on how that affected ticket sales. And several new off-Broadway shows opened over the last few days, some getting pretty high marks from our critics.
Three Sisters: Lisa Schwarzbaum praises the “effectively heartbreaking” and “eternally current” A-rate Chekhov revival — Peter Sarsgaard and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s second in two years — for glowing “with modern energy and finesse” thanks to direction by Austin Pendleton and “the graceful hands of a harmoniously matched, eye-catching cast.”
The New York Idea: The Atlantic Theater Company’s revival of Langdon Mitchell’s early 20th century “musty social satire” about love, marriage, and divorce among the Manhattan gentry gets a ho hum response and a B from critic Melissa Rose Bernardo, who writes that “though lavishly designed and frequently diverting, the production isn’t, alas, the giddy slice of Edith Whartonesque life one hopes for.”
The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore: Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis can’t save this “decidedly conventional” revival of Tennessee Williams’ unconventional drama about an aged Southern belle living out her final years in Italy. Bernardo grades it a C and writes “Dukakis gives an appropriately mannered performance, but her molasses-thick accent — which recalls her Claree from Steel Magnolias, with a little Mae West thrown in for good measure — obscures even the simplest lines.”
The Whipping Man: If you can stomach the graphic amputation scene early in this new Civil War drama’s first act, then you’re in for a devastatingly emotional two hours of great dialogue and compelling mysteries as three Jewish Southerners (one a Confederate captain, two his former slaves) celebrate Passover. I gave the show an A-, finding it to be a “David Mamet-style three-hander in a historical setting, with a trio of men talking out their shaky relationships in the midst of a major crisis.”
Gruesome Playground Injuries: “There is plenty of pleasure to be gained from observing these characters’ pain” writer Keith Staskiewicz says about the two masochists (The Wire’s Pablo Schreiber and Dexter’s Jennifer Carpenter) whose decades-long love affair is portrayed out of chronological order in this drama, which he gives a solid B. “Carpenter and Schreiber succeed in making these people fully flesh-and-blood, even if that flesh gets cut and that blood spills.”