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A Dickens Of A Season With 'Carol,' And More

December 07, 1985|DAN SULLIVAN | Times Theater Critic

Who's the most-produced playwright in America?

For most of the year, according to Theatre Communications Group, it's Shakespeare. But in December, Charles Dickens takes over with productions of "A Christmas Carol" in practically every city.

This winter the Dickens theater boom extends beyond "A Christmas Carol." The Guthrie Theatre is touring "Great Expectations." The Royal Shakespeare Company is about to revive "Nicholas Nickleby" with an eye towards an American tour. And "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" has just opened on Broadway.

Dickens died before he could finish the book, leaving the mystery of who killed Edwin Drood up in the air. Rupert Holmes' musical adaptation--first produced by the New York Shakespeare Festival in Central Park last summer--allows the audience to vote on the matter. Given a half-dozen suspects, that means a half-dozen possible endings.

Sounds like fun. The Broadway critics thought so--with reservations. Frank Rich in the New York Times wished that the rest of the show had the spontaneity of the last 45 minutes, when emcee George Rose gets the audience to join the game. Up to then Rich felt a certain strain in the jokey melodramatic proceedings. UPI's Frederick Winship also noticed imperfections, but decided that the show had "enough zest, color, action and brilliant performing to enchant audiences of all ages." (The performers include pop singer Cleo Laine and Betty Buckley, late of "Cats.")

"Drood" could be the New York Shakespeare Festival's biggest popular success since "The Pirates of Penzance," which also was staged by Wilford Leach. The group is hoping for an equal success with its reprise of "Nicholas Nickleby"--with reduced funding from the British Arts Council, it needs the money.

John Caird, co-director of the original "Nicholas," told the AP's Matt Wolf that he was "rather dreading a reprise," but found that his appetite for the work had come back. The new Nicholas will be Michael Silberry, a more happy-go-lucky type than the original, Roger Rees.

For all the emphasis on Dickens, it's still the Royal Shakespeare Company. In fact the group's "Love's Labour's Lost" is up for an Olivier Award on Sunday night in London as best comedy of the year.

Another new Broadway show is John ("Agnes of God") Pielmeir's "The Boys of Autumn," in which a platoon of American soldiers in Vietnam display camaraderie and brutality under fire.

Rich found it simplistic and sententious (as in "We all have little My Lais in the corner of our souls. Responsibility has got to be taken"). The AP's Michael Kuchwara: "It genuinely wants to say something of importance about a subject of importance, but never becomes anything more than a savage but unconvincing evening of theater."

Houston's Chocolate Bayou is looking for three scripts for its 1985 Preston Jones New Play Symposium to be held July 11-Aug. 3. This involves a $500 stipend, a residency at the theater and a chance to see one's play in three separate public readings, spaced so that there's time to work on it in between. Deadline is Feb. 28. Details at P.O. Box 270363, Houston 77277. Phone: (713) 528-0119.

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