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Howard Sherman: Will Hangmen be lucky number seven for Martin McDonagh on Broadway?

Mark Addy, Sally Rogers, Richard Hollis, John Horton, and Billy Carter in Hangmen at the Atlantic Theater Company (Photo: Ahron R. Foster)
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That rumours have already begun swirling around Martin McDonagh’s Hangmen should be no surprise. Following opening night on Monday, its reviews have been positive and musings of a move to Broadway are almost inevitable.

The Off-Broadway Atlantic Theater Company, where Hangmen is now running, first brought McDonagh to the US 20 years ago, with its transfer of The Beauty Queen of Leenane. Some eight years later, The Lieutenant of Inishmore also trekked uptown from the Atlantic to Broadway.

In total, six of McDonagh’s plays have made it to Broadway, a remarkable achievement in this era of dwindling opportunities for new works. Admittedly, some of McDonaghs plays, like The Cripple of Inishmaan, took a while to make the journey, but nonetheless, they got there.

His overall count compares more than favourably with many of his US contemporaries. Selectively referencing the list of recent Pulitzer Prize-winners, David Lindsay-Abaire has had two plays and two musicals on Broadway, while both John Patrick Shanley and Tracy Letts have had two plays on Broadway.

Tony Kushner? A play and a musical. Suzan Lori-Parks? One play and an adapted book of a musical. Nilo Cruz, Stephen Adly Guirgis, Lynn Nottage, and Paula Vogel have each had one play on Broadway. Quiara Alegria Hudes has yet to have a play on Broadway, although her book for In The Heights ran several years. Donald Margulies is tied with McDonagh at six Broadway plays.

Broadway, or even Pulitzers, are hardly the sole arbiters of success for plays and playwrights, but they certainly are factors in an author’s recognition. One or both can boost the life of plays in America’s regional theatres. McDonagh has had more success than most in seeing his plays reach the vaunted commercial marketplace of New York.

The critical response to Hangmen times out happily, for McDonagh and for Fox Searchlight Pictures, as it coincides impeccably in the final weeks of Oscar voting. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, written and directed by McDonagh, is up for seven awards, including one for McDonagh himself for best original screenplay. The film, according to data from IMDB.com, has grossed $42 million so far, a very solid number for a small, serious movie, far surpassing the box office revenues for McDonagh’s two previous films, In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths.

Will Hangmen reach Broadway? That is of course in the hands of any producers who decide whether to take a fistful of reviews and an existing production and see if they can translate them into a longer run in a larger house. In 1998, no stars were necessary for Beauty Queen’s success, but the last two McDonagh plays on Broadway had them. The Cripple of Inishmaan featured Daniel Radcliffe, while A Behanding in Spokane boasted Christopher Walken’s first Broadway appearance in 10 years and only his third since the 1980s.

If Hangmen is to make the late April Tony Awards eligibility deadline, decisions will have to be made quickly. It would likely be foolish to try to insert a big-name performer into a praised ensemble, potentially vitiating the critical response. In any event, there’s little time to make such a change.

With success at the Royal Court, in the West End and now Off-Broadway, coupled with McDonagh’s raised profile for Three Billboards, everything has certainly aligned to send Hangmen to Broadway – and an Oscar win would surely be another asset.

If it happens, it raises McDonagh even higher in the Broadway record books for playwrights. And if it doesn’t happen, that shouldn’t be taken as a slight, but merely another example of how hard it is for plays to reach Broadway, even when seemingly everything is going their way.

This week in US theatre

The debate over whether bakeries can refuse to make cakes for same-sex weddings, a hot button topic still being debated in US courts, reaches the stage this week at California’s La Jolla Playhouse with the premiere of Bekah Brunstetter’s The Cake, opening Sunday. Casey Stangl directs this fictional version of the issue, centered on two women who approach a famed cake maker in advance of their nuptials, only to meet with a decidedly ambivalent response.

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