Katie Holmes now shares something more with Nicole Kidman than just being another Mrs. Tom Cruise. Both debuted on Broadway to a less-than-warm welcome. A decade ago Kidman played five parts and even appeared naked in "The Blue Room," a sizzling new adaptation by David Hare of Arthur Schnitzler's "La Ronde." While she earned decent reviews and even won a Theater World award, Kidman was snubbed by the critics' kudos and the Tony Awards.
Apparently, the same fate awaits Holmes, who opened Thursday night to so-so notices in a secondary role in Arthur Miller's "All My Sons," with John Lithgow and two-time Oscar champ Dianne Wiest as the parents of her now-dead World War II pilot boyfriend and past Tony nominee Patrick Wilson as the surviving brother.
While reviews for these theater vets were generally good, both Holmes and the director, Simon McBurney, came in for some sharp criticism. (In the surprisingly small world of show biz, McBurney, who also acts, was as one of Nicole Kidman's minions in "The Golden Compass.")
Back in 1947, "All My Sons" won Tonys for both the playwright and the director, Elia Kazan, as well as the New York Drama Critics Circle award, edging out Eugene O'Neill's "The Iceman Cometh." It's not known if Lois Wheeler, who originated the role of Ann Deever in that first production, was even considered for a Tony Award. Only winners were announced until 1956 when the Tonys began to name nominees. (In that year's supporting category, Patricia Neal won best featured actress of 1947 for "Another Part of the Forest.") When "All My Sons" was first revived in 1987, Jayne Atkinson, now known for her work on "24," made her Broadway debut as Ann Deever, but was not nominated. However, that production did win best play revival and Richard Kiley and Jamey Sheridan, as the feuding father and son, were both nominated.
Weighing the current production, Elysa Gardner of USA Today says, "At best, Holmes exhibits a girlish exuberance that could serve her well in certain stage roles, provided she finds a director who can ease her obvious self-consciousness and get her to focus on the often-intricate process of character development. Sadly, Simon McBurney, who helms this production, is not that director." Gardner did think Lithgow "painfully convincing," that Weist "offers a witty, heartbreaking portrait," and that Patrick Wilson "movingly traces the disillusionment of their surviving son."
Linda Winer of Newsday thought the leads "shattering" but dismissed Holmes as "earnest and pretty, like a talented girl in a school play."
Michael Kuchwara of the AP found Holmes "a striking physical presence, although not much vocal variety. She may be acting under the constraints of McBurney's direction, which encourages high-voltage pronouncements." While Ben Brantley of the New York Times loved Lithgow, he thought Wiest misdirected and that Holmes missed the mark completely as she "delivers most of her lines with meaningful asperity, italicizing every word." And Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune thought, "Holmes does not embarrass herself in any way. But you wish she channeled a little more of her modest origins in Toledo, Ohio, and a little less of her current heightened reality."
For David Rooney of Variety "Holmes handles her role as death's messenger with neither distinction nor embarrassment. She lacks the technique to match her co-stars' depths, working hard at conveying purpose, gravity and a contradictory duality between innocence and sharpness." He reserved his praise for the veteran stage actors: "Lithgow's descent from jovial warmth to self-righteous defensiveness to crushed accountability is drawn in bold strokes. Wilson also does compelling work. The actor's wholesomeness and seemingly intrinsic honesty make his character's idealism ennobling rather than foolish and his physical clashes with his father are shockingly visceral. And in a tremendously moving performance of God-like judgment, compassion, rage and sorrow at human failings, Wiest makes Kate the drama's howling center."