On-the-job braining

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Just one week into preview performances of Broadway’s Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, and the big question is not, “How quickly is this thing going to close?” but, “How many people is it going to kill?”

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It wasn’t until this past Friday that it became clear lead actress Natalie Mendoza hadn’t merely been stranded above the stage at last Sunday’s epically disastrous first preview; she also received a concussion from being hit by a swinging rope, sidelining her until at least this coming Tuesday. Add that to the two actors who were injured performing stunts during rehearsals, and you have the most potentially lethal experience to hit the Great White Way since the Naked Cowboy ambled over from Times Square bearing a bad case of BVD fungus.

What’s especially “interesting” is that Mendoza went through with performing in Wednesday’s preview, supposedly against the advice of her doctors. What a trouper! Why, she didn’t even bother reporting her injury until last Tuesday -- which, as the New York Times points out, means that the incident didn’t make it into the stage manager’s Sunday postshow report.

That may be why the New York State Department of Labor’s comment on the incident reads, in part, “The Department of Labor’s agreement with the production says that if an accident or equipment malfunction happens as it relates to an aerial performance, we need to be notified. The production has explained to us the details of the accident.”

Notice how that says nothing about when the department learned of this latest mishap, or how. Given that director Julie Taymor was already rising to the top of area safe-workplace advocates’ “persons of interest” list, I doubt she sent them a nice basket of aromatherapy soaps and a card reading, “Oopsie! Dinged another one!”

There’s also a question as to whether Mendoza was knocked on the noggin by a regular rope, a reinforced rope, or some theatrical equipment attached to said rope. What sort of equipment? That hasn’t been theorized, though my guesses are: a) a sandbag; b) a Fresnel; c) one of the actors playing Spider-Man; or d) the musical’s long-awaited script, being airlifted to the performers on the stage in a vain attempt to salvage Act Two.

And to really put the webbing on the cake, the New York telecast of last night’s SNL -- which featured a so-so “Weekend Update” parody of the musical’s previously reported calamities – included two different commercials for the production. Given how 11th-hour the entire Spidey undertaking has been (I’ve read no reports that its all-important Brooklyn Bridge set, which was famously absent from Sunday’s first preview, has yet made it to the stage), the producers of the TV spots didn’t exactly have a treasure trove of performance footage from which to choose. So what did they do to fill 30 seconds of airtime? They threw in footage of rehearsals. And not dress rehearsals, but early-in-the-process stuff like dance rehearsals, with ordinary FOFs (that’s Friends of Fosse) in ordinary leotards running through ordinary moves in an ordinary studio.

Makes you want to rush right out and plunk down a hundred and change for a ticket, doesn’t it? “Hey, Margaret: This show looks like it could really be something as soon as it exists!”

Given the unique combination of schadenfreude and flop sweat that’s attached itself to the production, Taymor et al would have been more likely to snare rubbernecking Noo Yawkers and curious tourists by throwing in actual footage of the cast getting racked up in run-through. “Reserve your seats now for Spider-Man: (Ow!) Turn Off the Dark (Look out! INCOMING!), Broadway’s new theatrical miracle (SonofaBITCH, that smarts!).” When $65 million meets the sworn enemies of OSHA, only the strong survive – maybe.

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