Philip Seymour Hoffman Returning to Broadway
Am I being incepted? Someone give me the “kick” before I go into cardiac arrest. On second thought, leave me to my dreamscape, because I like it here. Somehow I missed this news, which broke about a month ago. The first story came in October 2010, but I had heard nothing about it since then, so I was afraid that the project was not going to happen. To my immeasurable joy, it’s not only happening. It’s more exciting than it was before, as if the words “Philip Seymour Hoffman” and “Broadway” are not mouth-watering enough. I’ll just come out with it: In March 2012, Philip Seymour Hoffman will be starring as Willy Loman in the Broadway revival of Death of a Salesman. And it will be directed by Mike Nichols. And Andrew Garfield will star as Biff. Yes, you read that correctly. My eyes could scarcely believe it. I don’t even know where to begin to express my enthusiasm.
First, there’s the play itself: Arthur Miller’s 1949 drama is a modern classic, an indisputable staple in American cinema. Yes, it’s been done many times before, but it is timeless, continually speaking to subsequent generations. Interestingly, in Synecdoche, New York, Hoffman plays a theater director who is re-envisioning a revival of Death of a Salesman. The original production starred Lee J. Cobb as Willy; a 1975 production starred George C. Scott; the 1984 production starred Dustin Hoffman as Willy and John Malkovich as Biff (there’s a corresponding 1985 television movie); the most recent Broadway revival was in 1999, and it starred Brian Dennehy (with whom Philip Seymour Hoffman appeared in Long Day’s Journey Into Night). Clearly, Philip Seymour Hoffman has big shoes to fill, but I think it’s a role that he’s ready for.
Then, there’s Mike Nichols: the epitome of theater royalty. In 1963, he directed the original production of Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park with Robert Redford. In 1967, he directed the original production of Simon’s The Odd Couple, starring Art Carney and Walter Matthau. In 1983, he produced the original production of Annie. In 1985, he directed the original production of Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing (starring Glenn Close, Jeremy Irons, Peter Gallagher, and Cynthia Nixon) and simultaneously directed the original production of David Rabe’s Hurlyburly with William Hurt. He’s responsible for a great many other things, including Spamalot, but it suffices to say that Nichols is a titan of the stage. As far as film-theater crossover goes, he directed the adaptation of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. He directed the HBO mini-series adaptation of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America (2003) with Al Pacino and Meryl Streep. And he directed an adaptation of Patrick Marber’s Closer (2004) with Clive Owen, Julia Roberts, Jude Law, and Natalie Portman. Nichols’s film credits also include The Graduate, Carnal Knowledge, The Birdcage, Charlie Wilson’s War (with Philip Seymour Hoffman), and more. If that doesn’t spell a successful track record, I don’t know what does.
Philip Seymour Hoffman is easily on the shortlist of my favorite working actors. He does impeccable character work in supporting roles in Boogie Nights, Magnolia, The Big Lebowski, Happiness, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Almost Famous, 25th Hour, and others. His voice work in Mary and Max is revelatory. His starring roles are forces of nature: Flawless, Capote, The Savages, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Synecdoche, New York, and others. Hoffman also has some film-theater crossover. He goes head-to-head with Meryl Streep in an adaptation of John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt (2008). Last year, he directed himself in an adaptation of Jack Goes Boating, a play that he had previously performed at the LAByrinth Theater with John Ortiz. While it’s not an adaptation, Hoffman indelibly delivers playwright Aaron Sorkin’s (A Few Good Men) biting words in Charlie Wilson’s War. He gets to tackle more of Sorkin’s (and Steven Zaillian’s) dialogue in Moneyball, directed by Capote‘s Bennett Miller. George Clooney’s upcoming The Ides of March is also an adaptation of an off-Broadway play. I absolutely love to watch Hoffman on screen, and I can only imagine what it would be like on stage.
Hoffman’s theater background is extensive, and his passion for it is unwavering. In 2000, he starred opposite (and alternated roles with) John C. Reilly in a Broadway production of True West. In 2001, he played Konstantin in The Seagull, a Tom Stoppard-translated, Mike Nichols-directed (there’s that name again) production in Central Park also starring Meryl Streep, Christopher Walken, John Goodman, Marcia Gay Harden, Kevin Kline, and Natalie Portman. In 2003, he embodied Jamie Tyrone (a role previously inhabited by Jason Robards and Kevin Spacey) in the Broadway revival of Long Day’s Journey Into Night with Brian Dennehy, Vanessa Redgrave, and Robert Sean Leonard (this was his last appearance on Broadway). In 2009, he played Iago to John Ortiz’s Othello (a fellow LAByrinth Theater founder) for the Public Theater. He has also directed numerous plays (one of which, The Long Red Road, I had the pleasure of viewing in March 2010). I have been saying for years that if Hoffman ever returns to Broadway, I will be there.
Finally, as a cherry on top, there’s Andrew Garfield. This will be his Broadway debut, but the stage is far from unknown to him. He has performed numerous roles in London, not the least of which is Romeo himself. I have written about Garfield before, so I’ll just reiterate that I think he’s an amazing talent, as evidenced in Boy A, Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1974, Never Let Me Go, and The Social Network (where he gets to dig into some Sorkin dialogue). He has The Amazing Spider-Man coming up next year, which will make him much more popular than he is right now (to his apprehension, actually, because Garfield is a rather introverted guy). I can’t imagine what he might do with the role of Biff.
Tickets will be expensive. Dates will be sold out. Mike Nichols will draw theater devotees. Andrew Garfield will draw film devotees. And Philip Seymour Hoffman will draw everyone. But regardless of price, I will be at this show…travel arrangements, hotel arrangements, school/work scheduling complications can be ignored. This production can’t. Call me crazy, but it’s news like this that reminds me why I love what I love.