BWW Review: Kevin Spacey Aces CLARENCE DARROW at Arthur Ashe Stadium

Ask any New York Mets fan and they'll tell you that one of the unique quirks about watching a game at the team's Flushing home - be it the now-demolishEd Shea Stadium or the current Citi Field - is the frequent rumbling of planes coming in and out of LaGuardia Airport.

BWW Review:  Kevin Spacey Aces CLARENCE DARROW at Arthur Ashe Stadium
Kevin Spacey (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

You can now count that as one of the unique quirks of attending a play at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

The showcase venue of the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament, located in nearby Flushing Meadows Park, was used last week for the first time in its history to house a legit theatre production - two performances of Kevin Spacey starring in David W. Rintels' 1974 solo play, CLARENCE DARROW - and even with the retractable roof in place, the airliners overhead regularly made their presence known.

Add to that the loudly reverbed amplification that sounded more appropriate for... well, for announcing the scores of a tennis match, and you're in for an unusual night.

And yet, not one without promise.

If you're going to do a play in a stadium that seats over 22,000 (not counting those in luxury suites), a straightforward, presentational piece like CLARENCE DARROW is certainly preferable over LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT or THE CHERRY ORCHARD.

Darrow, of course, was the iconic lawyer best remembered for the 1925 Scopes "Monkey" Trial, where he opposed William Jennings Bryan to defend the right to teach evolution in public schools. A prominent member of the American Civil Liberties Union, much of his career was devoted to the rights of the working class and his strong opposition to the death penalty.

BWW Review:  Kevin Spacey Aces CLARENCE DARROW at Arthur Ashe Stadium
Kevin Spacey
(Photo: Matthew Murphy)

Spacey originally starred in director Thea Sharrock's mounting at London's Old Vic, and its in-the-round set-up was replicated for Flushing; a small circular stage with ramps going out into the audience at each quarter. Spacey's energetic, totally engaging performance was staged with plenty of movement, so playgoers on all sides could get a good look at the star. Jumbo screens situated all around the stadium insured that his face could always be seen.

Despite the sporting set-up, where hot dogs, beer and other refreshments could be enjoyed at every seat, the atmosphere was remarkably attentive and responsive throughout the play's two acts. The story of a lawyer working against staggering odds to protect the underdogs of America, delivered with captivating warmth and humor by Spacey, seemed to really hold the crowd.

While jumbo screens and 22,000 seat venues are not exactly the preferred way to enjoy live theatre, Arthur Ashe Stadium has thousands of upper tier seats that can be sold inexpensively and/or donated to school kids. Certainly a lively Shakespeare comedy might work well there. Kevin Spacey's crazy idea might very well lead to something big.

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