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This Week on Stage: 'Disgraced' opens, Keira Knightley preps NYC debut

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Joan Marcus

We were all hoping that the London production of Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour would mark Keira Knightley’s Broadway debut (she got great reviews in 2011 starring opposite Mad Men‘s Elisabeth Moss), but we’ll take her however we can get her. Next fall, she will make her Broadway debut in Roundabout Theatre Company’s adaptation of the tragic novel Thérèse Raquin, continuing with Knightley’s affinity for period dramas. In other news, Big Brother standout Frankie J. Grande (the bro of another famous Grande, Ariana) will take on a supporting role in Rock of Ages for two months beginning Nov. 10 (not his first rodeo, though-he was famously in Mamma Mia! some years back) and the Shubert Organization, the titans who own most of the Broadway houses in NYC, announced a deal with super-producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan to produce new content for the stage. Which, given their involvement with lofty projects like (ahem) The Oscars means more big stars to keep those attendances on the Great White Way sky high. It was also a very busy week for the folks at EW, with six new Broadway and Off Broadway openings:  Josh Radnor and Gretchen Mol return to the stage after the wrap of their long-running TV shows, How I Met Your Mother and Boardwalk Empire (whose finale airs this weekend). A valued member of the Redgrave dynasty takes on a classic solo. And speaking of Mad Men, Vincent Kartheiser goes all accent-y to capture the spirit of the late, great Billy Wilder (click on the links below for full reviews).

Disgraced  The 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winner for Drama by Ayad Akhtar finally receives a Broadway berth courtesy of Lincoln Center (which first produced it in their black-box Off Broadway space), with new actors Josh Radnor and Gretchen Mol joining actors Hari Dhillon and Karen Pittman from previous productions. Senior editor Thom Geier feels the work hasn’t lost any of his luster, stating that “we get an engaging snapshot of the challenge for upwardly mobile Muslim Americans in the post-9/11 age…Akhtar packs a lot into his scenes, in terms of both coincidence-heavy personal drama and talky disquisitions on religion and politics, but he usually manages to pull back from the edge of too-muchness.” EW grade: B+

The Belle of Amherst  Nip/Tuck star Joely Richardson takes on one of the late Julie Harris’ most acclaimed roles, essaying Emily Dickinson, but did senior editor Adam Markovitz find her the Belle of the ball? “It’s easy to see why Richardson would be drawn to a revival…there’s nowhere to hide if it doesn’t work, no one to lean on if the energy flags. For Richardson, the gamble doesn’t quite pay off. During a recent performance, trudging through a few fumbled lines and what sounded like an ill-timed cold, the actress often gave the impression that she was marking out the play’s beats—laugh here, fall down crying there—without fully acting them.” EW grade: C

Billy & Ray  Vincent Kartheiser and veteran stage actor Larry Pine star as Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler in a new fact-based play about the making of Double Indemnity. Garry Marshall directs Mike Bencivenga’s script, and Bette Midler’s doppelganger daughter adds an additional Hollywood spark. But Melissa Rose Bernardo found the evening a bit less than festive: “Kartheiser—who tackles the Austrian-born Billy Wilder’s accent with gusto, if not accuracy—is having a fantastic time with groaners like ‘In case you haven’t noticed, I don’t sprechenzee English so hot’…Pine, meanwhile, couldn’t look more uncomfortable.” EW grade: C+

brownsville song (b-side for tray)  A Brooklyn youth’s untimely killing sets the scene for Lincoln Center’s newest  production in its intimate LCT3 space, but my review indicates that we’ve seen this story many times before, with far less contrivance. “Playwright Kimber Lee’s treatment of the topic is decidedly lower-cased (like the title), opting for the shopworn tone of a litany of decades-old works on the same topic, only without their cumulative power.” EW grade: C

The Fortress of Solitude  Jonathan Lethem’s acclaimed 2003 novel about two boys growing up in Gowanus, Brooklyn, who end up on splintered paths after a close childhood gets a full-on musical via The Public Theater. Thom Geier admires the far-reaching ambition of the new piece, but admits it doesn’t soar like its superhero-obsessed youngsters. “There is a lot of promise in The Fortress of Solitude, and some individual moments that suggest how a more streamlined storytelling approach might have elevated the material. But you may leave the Public Theater less impressed than exhausted. Speed-reading a thick tome in a single sitting can have that effect.” EW grade: B

James Dickey’s Deliverance  Godlight Theatre Company adds another oddity to their gallery of seemingly unstageable projects, this time taking on the terrifying James Dickey novel about four men on a hellish river-canoeing retreat in the deep South. I found it a creditable attempt to create tension on stage, with a few hiccups: “In a smart move, the creators base the play less on John Boorman’s 1972 film…director Joe Tantalo and his superb crew of technicians, whose lighting and sound ingenuity is a show unto itself, keep Deliverance from ever threatening to capsize.” EW grade: B