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“The play’s the thing,” as Shakespeare wrote (I guess he wrote it– that new movie “Anonymous” creates some doubts).

 

Last week on Broadway, I got to see three of the newest the American stage has to offer. All shared that latest key to Broadway success– film and television stars atop the cast of characters. Two are limited engagements; the third should run for some time. Check them out, if my thumbnail sketches appeal to you.

THE MOUNThe MountaintopTAINTOP: Samuel L Jackson and Angela Bassett star in this interesting two-hander about the night before Dr Martin Luther King was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. Jackson does a fine job with the cadences of King’s legendary oratory– even in a cheap motel room, you can measure the greatness in this man. More interesting still, we glimpse his fears, his braggadocio and his all too human response to pretty maid Camae (Ms Bassett), who brings him coffee and stays awhile. Bassett’s performance is wonderfully nuanced — respectful here, a touch of sexy there, childish, then all-knowing. I won’t give away the ending, which I wasn’t crazy about. Things take a spiritual turn, though — what you’d expect from a story about this legendary man of faith. MOUNTAINTOP runs through January only.

RELATIVELY SPEAKING: Relatively SpeakingThe filmmaker Ethan Coen (“Fargo,” “No Country for Old Men,” the remake of “True Grit”) doesn’t immediately spring to mind as a likely bunkmate of comedy kings Woody Allen and Elaine May. But all three of them wrote one act plays, which are loosely tied together in this hot new entertainment now at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. I guess family relationships– pretty wacky ones, come to think of it–interrelate the trio of sketches. In the able hands of comedians like Steve Guttenberg and Julie Kavner, TV star Marlo Thomas and a host of Broadway’s finest actors, the material generally works–though some of it is funnier than others. I especially enjoyed Woody Allen’s evening closer. It’s full of the old Allen shtick, well-directed by John Turturro (he staged all three plays) and acted with door-slamming fun by Guttenberg, Kavner, Mark Linn-Baker and a great gang of interlopers. Expect this one to hang around well into 2012.

Man and BoyMAN AND BOY: The brilliant Frank Langella stars in this revival of a Terence Rattigan play at the Roundabout Theatre’s space on 42nd Street. It’s fascinating that this story of international corporate finance gone bad was written way back in the 30s: it screams today’s headlines. Langella plays the part of a mysterious businessman on the lam with the kind of subtle control– first demure, then explosive– that reminds us why he’s consistently one of the American theater’s (and film and TV’s) most consummate actors. The Roundabout is a rep company, so MAN AND BOY won’t be there long.

If you go, enjoy the show!

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