Theater archives

The Worst Broadway Plays of All Time


I recently blogged about the worst musicals I’ve ever seen, but what about the straight plays, as it were? Surely even without people bursting into song at odd, embarrassing moments, a show can pierce through your skull like a runaway power drill. So I’ve dutifully looked through my vicious, sneering pile of old Playbills and come up with this zippy list of the five worst Broadway plays that have ever ripped precious time out of my life without stopping to apologize. In descending order of rottenness, they are:

(1) Prymate (Ran 27 performances in 2004) I vaguely remember Phyllis Frelich as a deaf interpreter who repeated everything the title simian (Andre DeShields) “said” as Heather Tom jerked him off and he rewarded her by peeing on her leg, while James Naughton sermonized about…You get the idea. This shit was chimpan-zee list.

(2) On The Waterfront (Ran 24 perfs in 1995) An adaptation of the classic film minus any purpose or big names, this must not have even looked good on paper. What crackled onscreen just laid there onstage, where it couldn’t have been a contender—it was even duller and more laborious than the stage version of Erin Brockovitch in Hamlet 2. At least the production gave some exposure to future star James Gandolfini in a key role, but that didn’t help me at the time.

(3) Rose (Ran 55 perfs in 2000) I detest the lazy dramatic conceit known as a one-person show, especially if it has a desperate, stranded actor trying to captivate you with a fictional autobiography that basically consists of a checklist of historical points through the decades. I felt terrible for star Olympia Dukakis, but mainly I felt sorry for myself and my sore ass. At least there was an intermission. As a result, I found, there wasn’t an Act Two.

(4) Harold and Maude (25 perfs in 1980) It may not have been as fetid as the Waterfront adaptation, but still, the sight of Oscar winner Janet Gaynor romancing young Keith McDermott while giving a sadly inept performance made you want to run home and put your mother in Shady Pines.

(5) Taller Than A Dwarf (93 perfs in 2000) Throw together normally lovable personalities like playwright Elaine May, director Alan Arkin, and stars Matthew Broderick and Parker Posey, and you somehow ended up with a dwarf that begged to be tossed into a pile of sludge. This absurdist “comedy” had the audience more stonefaced than with Matthew’s later production of Springtime For Hitler. A giant hit it wasn’t.