Art is definitely not imitating life for Adam Arkin in the first scene of Donald Margulies's new play Brooklyn Boy. Though his character, newly successful novelist Eric Weiss, struggles to talk to his dying father Manny, the actor has no trouble communicating with his offstage dad, screen legend Alan Arkin. "That scene is not at all reflective of the relationship between me and my father," he says. "But everyone has had an experience with their parent -- especially as a kid -- where they're not able to make themselves fully understood, and I am drawing on those remembrances for this part."
Arkin has had a lot of time to work on the play; he starred in a run of it last year at South Coast Repertory. "I believe Donald always had me in mind for this part. I did his play Sight Unseen some years ago, and my brother Matthew was in the original cast of Dinner with Friends," he notes. Indeed, the entire California cast is returning for the New York run with the exception of Dana Reeve, who bowed out in the wake of her husband Christopher Reeve's death. (She's been replaced by Polly Draper.) "The South Coast Rep production was a little bit like being out of town, and our group became very close-knit," says Arkin. "Donald and Dan Sullivan, our director, really wanted the piece to be an ensemble. And the way we had to end the run, right after Christopher's death, had a real poignancy, because we had to say goodbye while we were still in shock. It's nice being able to reassemble this way."
In addition to this very challenging role -- he is on stage for every second of the two-act drama -- Arkin has some new parenting challenges of his own right now: His son, Emmet, was born in December. So where did that moniker come from? "My wife and I both immediately responded to the name Emmet," Arkin replies. "We also like the fact that it's the name of a famous clown [Emmett Kelly]. Plus, it's the Hebrew word for truth." And, as a member of an acting dynasty, dad had an additional motive: "Having five letters in each name will look really good on a marquee someday!"
THE PLAY'S THE THING
While many younger theatergoers will be attracted to the New Group's production of David Rabe's Hurlyburly because of its thirtysomething marquee names -- Ethan Hawke, Parker Posey, and Bobby Cannavale -- another major casting coup is actor-playwright Wallace Shawn as the creepy Artie. "This is the first time I have been in a play that I didn't write since the 1970s," notes Shawn. "I really couldn't resist the chance to work with director Scott Elliott, and I have long idolized David Rabe. I saw the first production of this show and I remember it astonishingly well. Those original performances were so marvelous; I won't be competing with Jerry Stiller."
Having had more than a passing acquaintance with Hollywood, how accurate does Shawn think the play is? "This is a world that David imagined," he says. "It's not photorealism. But if you don't know anything about Hollywood, you might think that this is pure photography. I think if you come from Iceland, you might think that this is exactly how casting directors really behave."
A (COLE)MAN OF IMPORTANCE
Not surprisingly, the audience at the Majestic Theatre on Monday for Cy Coleman's memorial was as star-studded as the talent onstage. Among the many luminaries on hand to remember the legendary composer, who died suddenly last November, were Lauren Bacall, Donna Murphy and husband Shawn Elliott, Kathie Lee Gifford, Phyllis Newman and daughter Amanda Green, Sam Harris, Hal Linden, John Tartaglia, Marc Kudisch, Ron Raines, Harvey Evans, Thommie Walsh, Christine Pedi, and Tony Walton.
A MADWOMAN'S WORK IS NEVER DONE
Also at the Majestic to pay her respects to Coleman was the majestic -- and extremely busy -- Marian Seldes. On Monday, January 17, this grandest of grande dames will star in a benefit reading of The Madwoman of Chaillot for The Acting Company at the Century Theater. On January 19, she will participate in the Food For Thought series at the National Arts Club, playing Queen Elizabeth in George Bernard Shaw's rarely seen The Dark Lady of the Sonnets.
And on Monday, January 24, Seldes will host the annual Theatre Hall of Fame ceremonies at the Gershwin, taking over for the late Jerry Orbach. This year's inductees are actors Len Cariou, Sir Ian McKellen, Brian Murray, and Estelle Parsons; playwright A.R. Gurney; set designer Santo Loquasto; producer Elizabeth McCann; and the late, great musical theater star Gregory Hines. Presenters at the event will include the legendary Julie Harris, Kate Burton, George C. Wolfe, and Orbach's widow Elaine Orbach.
AND THEN THERE'S MAUDE
Speaking of Estelle Parsons, the January 9 opening of her new show Harold & Maude: The Musical at the Paper Mill Playhouse brought out a number of Broadway biggies. Seen in the audience were Christine Ebersole (who's set to return to the Main Stem in March in Steel Magnolias), David Garrison (who'll be headlining the national tour of Wicked as the Wizard), and Rebecca Luker. The sweet songbird was there as a supportive spouse to Danny Burstein, who co-stars with Parsons, Eric Millegan, Donna English, and Donna Lynne Champlin in the tuner based on the 1971 cult movie that starred Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort.
Yes, Virginia, some stars do their own grocery shopping! Last weekend, we spotted Tony Award winner Denis O'Hare, soon to be a winning Oscar in Sweet Charity, entering Whole Foods at the Time Warner Center; and the glamorous Jessica Lange, who'll return to the Great White Way next month in The Glass Menagerie, exiting the Jefferson Market. And yes, some stars use their night off from the theater to go to the theater -- e.g., Chicago's Brent Barrett, who atttended Under The Bridge on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, last Saturday night, the packed house for Audra McDonald's sensational concert at Jazz at Lincoln Center included two singer-songwriters whose compositions the multiiple-Tony-winning diva performed that evening: John Bucchino and Nellie McKay (who will make her own American Songbook debut on March 1). I was hoping to spot the wonderful Jessica Molaskey -- McDonald sang her haunting ballad "Cradle and All" -- as well, but she might have been busy rehearsing Make Believe, her new show at the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room (January 18-29).
[To contact Brian Scott Lipton directly, e-mail him at BSL@theatermania.com.]