Dustin Hoffman is planning a return to Broadway next spring, starring in a revival of Thornton Wilder’s 1938 play Our Town, according to Deadline.
If it materializes, it will be the Oscar winner’s first major project since 2017, when seven women accused him of sexual assault and harassment, at least one of whom was under 18 at the time.
The venture will be produced by industry heavyweight Scott Rudin, who also manages the hits The Book of Mormon, To Kill a Mockingbird, and West Side Story – all of which, like the rest of Broadway, have been closed since March 12th.
The announcement immediately raised eyebrows (and hackles) on social media, with industry figures and fans alike pointing to the multiple allegations of sexual assault leveled against Hoffman three years ago – one of which included exposing himself to a 16-year-old in a hotel room.
It’s worth noting that several of these allegations stem from Hoffman’s previous Broadway outings, including groping female colleagues backstage while they were trying to listen for their entrance cues.
It’s notable also given the team involved. Rudin and his partners came under fire pre-pandemic for casting Amar Ramasar in West Side Story. The lauded dancer was fired from NYCB for sexual misconduct, and though he was eventually reinstated after an arbitrator intervened, his presence in West Side resulted in ongoing protests outside the theater.
One wonders if Hoffman will evoke the same.
That’s assuming, of course, that the show happens at all. The news comes amid a spate of hopeful reschedulings and crossed fingers on the Great Bright Way, but there is no guarantee that the show will go on next spring. If the current surge of infections is any indication, reopening the economy quickly is not something American consumers – at least under the current federal leadership – are prepared to handle responsibly.
The Broadway League announced yesterday that all shows would be offering refunds through January 3rd, but made clear that doesn’t constitute an official reopening date. The best guesses point to a rolling wave of curtain-ups, but hard info is tough to come by, as each show is its own independent LLC, with wildly varying budgets and financial cushions.
Whenever it does happen, Our Town is one of two brand-new productions planned, the other being the Main Stem debut of Alice Childress’s Trouble in Mind, her 1955 play about racism in the theatre. (She is the only Black writer to have a new production slated for the post-pandemic industry).
Over a dozen other shows were either in previews or rehearsals when Governor Cuomo ordered all theaters closed. Some – primarily those affiliated with Broadway’s major nonprofits – have announced their intention to re-open next spring and fall. The rest are keeping quiet for now. A few, including Disney’s Frozen, will be shuttering permanently.
Our Town and Trouble in Mind are also of note as potential harbingers, given the current national reckoning on racism and representation, spurred by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and other Black Americans.
On one side: A time-tested warhorse – the Ol’ Reliable of the Western canon. Our Town is an 82-year-old play by a White man, which has been revived on Broadway five times before, starring (in this case) an 82-year-old White man…in a role that, as one critic pointed out, does not have a race, gender, or age specification attached.
On the other: Trouble in Mind is by one of the most prolific Black female playwrights of the 20th century, who nonetheless has never had her work performed on Broadway. It deals explicitly with the structural racism of the theatre industry, and the chasm between the lived experiences of White and Black workers – a chasm that yawns wide today, 65 years later.
If you’re disappointed that during a time of potential transformation, one of the most venerable producing houses in the biz wants to play it safe, you’re not alone.
Though perhaps “safe” isn’t the right word to use here – at least according to past female costars.