Actor-director David Cromer prepares his Broadway productions of Brighton Beach Memoirs and Broadway Bound while still starring Off-Broadway in Our Town.
Still, Cromer's dedication to Our Town -- which originated in Chicago and earned him a Joseph Jefferson Award -- is decidedly sincere. "I think it's a pretty tough play, although there are certain colors and sounds that are in that play that make people think it's simple-minded, which it isn't," he says. "The play doesn't advocate anything other than life goes on. It doesn't advocate small-town life as a better place to live. I think the setting is random. It's not a rebuke to big city people, which is how they often see it; it's just context. But Wilder does want us to appreciate the small things in life, like string beans."
In keeping with what he believes is Wilder's vision for the play, Cromer's staging is done in the round with the lights fully on -- allowing he and his cast to see the audience at all times. "It's totally worth it to see the audience; it's even ok if someone is asleep. Whatever the audience is doing I can make use of," he says. "But it can be rough when people of note are there. Diane Keaton was there the other night and all I wanted to do was look at her, and I think the first famous person who I saw during previews was Mandy Pantinkin, who I love. So now, they tell me in the office in advance if someone famous is in the audience, because I am not a good enough to actor to register indifference in that small a space."
Going from Chicago or downtown New York to Broadway for the Simon plays is a big step for Cromer. "I do feel pressure about being on Broadway if I think about it too hard," he says. "But the reality is a show is a show -- you have to drag people into the room, get them to sound like you want, and solve the problems of the work, all of which you can do with the right artists. Right now, I am lucky to have an enormous amount of support from the producers and my team. And I think these are great plays on their own, and together, they're an even greater animal."
To that end, Cromer isn't planning any fancy-schmancy directorial tricks. "I am not setting it in garbage cans, there will be no naked Korean prostitutes strolling the stage, and there will be no bacon," he says with a laugh, noting the use of the non-kosher meat for a pivotal moment in Our Town. These are plays about a Jewish home -- at least as designed by John Lee Beatty -- and I want to let them be everything they can be."
The two shows will eventually play in repertory, with the majority of the cast -- Laurie Metcalf as Kate Jerome, Dennis Boutsikaris as Jack Jerome, Santino Fontana as Stanley Jerome, Jessica Hecht as Blanche -- appearing in both works. But Cromer made the decision to use two different actors to play the pivotal role of Eugene Jerome: Noah Robbins in Brighton Beach Memoirs and Theatre World Award winner Josh Grisetti in Broadway Bound.
"There is a risk in using two different people, because you're asking the audience to switch heroes in the middle of their experience," he notes. "But I think the idea of having one actor to do both shows -- no matter how baby-faced he may look -- is even trickier. In Brighton Beach, Eugene is a teenager who has just had his first wet dream and is lusting after his cousin; he's perceiving adult behaviors for the first time. So the idea of conveying of innocence is so important. In Broadway Bound, he's really an adult, he's home from the War, he's watching his parents' marriage be challenged, and not only does he find the love of his life, he finds the confidence to do what he does with his life. It's the journey from boy to man that makes these plays so important."