New York Times: Q&A with Farrah (Nov 16,
If the classic actor's nightmare is being caught without lines, this
might run a close second: having one's Broadway play close after only a
week of previews. That's exactly what happened to Farrah Fawcett, who was
starring in "Bobbi Boland," the tragicomic tale of a former Miss
Florida. The play, by Nancy Hasty, was produced by Joyce Johnson a
neophyte producer and one of the heirs, by marriage, to the Johnson
pharmaceutical fortune after she saw a production of it Off Broadway in 2001
and envisioned it as a perfect showcase for Ms. Fawcett. At the time,
Bruce Weber, writing in The New York Times, found the play's first act
promising but called its second act a "plot-driven melodrama," adding:
"It's a disappointingly uncomplicated conclusion, and unfair to the
interesting woman we've grown to like and even admire."
But if "Bobbi Boland" has a slender, sitcom-like script, the title
character held a natural appeal for Ms. Fawcett, the former star of
"Charlie's Angels," who was widely praised in 1983 when she played a vengeful
victim of attempted rape in a successful Off Broadway production of
"Extremities." A little bit Blanche du Bois, a little Blanche Devereaux,
Bobbi is an aging, small-town ex-beauty queen clad in Barbie couture,
struggling to adjust to social change in the late 1960's. At the eeriest
moment in the play, Bobbi's husband reminisces about her fondly as "the
girl with the hair." Each night, preview audiences let out a gasp-moan
But last Sunday, Ms. Johnson pulled the plug forfeiting her $2
million investment. It was her second play to go down in a week. On Nov. 6
Ms. Johnson announced that "Omnium Gatherum," the $800,000 satire she
produced with Robert Cole, would close on Nov. 30 at the Variety Arts
Theater. Speaking about "Bobbi Boland" and the Cort Theater, Ms. Johnson
said by telephone last Tuesday: "In previews, you hope that you start
at one place and end up in a very different place. But if we could
improve a tree here, we could improve a tree there, the forest was that it
wasn't going to have the impact in that space. Farrah was a real trouper
and it had nothing to do with her."
"Bobbi Boland" wasn't the first setback for Ms. Fawcett, whose fame has
taken tabloid hits over the last few years, from a giggly David
Letterman interview to some much-mocked Playboy performance art. When I met
her last Monday night at the theater district bistro Angus McIndoe, she
was still vibrating with frustration, and worried that she would be
blamed for the play's closing.
EMILY NUSSBAUM You've had a heck of a week.
FARRAH FAWCETT Well, I was extremely sick on Thursday. Then I'd had a
really difficult time with the Saturday matinee, and the doctor gave me
an antibiotic and some sort of decongestant, and by the second
performance, my hands were shaking. During the matinee, I was so out of it; I
got all the lines, but it was as if I were outside my body. I forgot to
push over the trophy case in the final scene. But the evening was a
great performance, a standing ovation! The matinee was good, but I find
matinees are always a little strange. The evening performance was as if
we had paid them.
NUSSBAUM Then after the Sunday matinee, Joyce Johnson told you the
FAWCETT She had this strange, hesitant, sad-but-jittery energy. It was
a look. And she said: "The play, I just feel certain parts are not
working. The set was not right."
But I said: "This is previews! This is what it's for."
She began this analogy. She said: "We're serving Lipton tea, then if
that doesn't work, we try" because we made a lot of changes - we
try Earl Grey, then English Breakfast. And they don't want that. Because
they want coffee. This is not the time for this play."
And I said, "This is a strange time to be figuring that out."
NUSSBAUM Do you think it's a good play?
FAWCETT I think it still needed work that I was assured we would get
to. Was it slight? Did it lack substance? Joyce said she heard people
say, "Bobbi is spoiled." The character was a little over-the-top and
self-absorbed. Also, the ending. We never got it. Because I don't think
Bobbi should have ever been perceived as breaking down and losing
everything because her man left her. That's just unacceptable. I think you have
to see her pull herself together. And I think that perhaps audiences
had a problem with that? Because I don't know! With the tea and the
coffee . . .
I said to Joyce: "I would rather get a horrendous review than give up.
Stopping now is giving up, is losing face, is a lack of conviction. I
started it, we need to finish it. To pull it right now because you
don't want to get a bad review, you don't want the critics to if we
do that, we won't do anything. You don't let a preview audience or
whatever she was basing it on dictate. Give us another week, let
us address the problems."
It used to be done out of town, and that was easier. Because when a
producer starts listening to ladies in the ladies room. . . . Is there a
money issue? I don't really know. Just that morning, she had sent her
decorator to paint my dressing room a different color. She had gotten me
a hot water bottle.
Joyce is a very kind woman. She's extremely intelligent, very artistic.
But she said, "I just don't think that the play works in this venue."
And I said, "Joyce, remember when we were negotiating, and I said, `Does
this play have enough substance to make people buy a ticket and watch
it?' " I don't want that on my shoulders. Because I can't be objective.
I liked the character.
NUSSBAUM What appealed to you about her?
FAWCETT There isn't one thing about Bobbi that's me. But what I liked
was her goodness, her integrity. Yes, she's living in this time that she
doesn't want to move out of, when she was who she was. And yes, O.K.,
she's self-absorbed and loves to be the one who walks into the room and
gets all the attention that's not me! but I shouldn't have a
problem playing it because I'm not playing me. She's used to every head
looking at her. Now that's changed. It happens to all of us, one way or
another: mine will probably be something like Bobbi's. I want to do it
NUSSBAUM Did you have an inkling that this might happen, or were you
FAWCETT I was surprised. Because everyone said, "Don't worry." And
Joyce made a call based on previews which I was told you don't do. That
we could fill a theater with 750 people and get a standing ovation, and
not have done any publicity, that's pretty good. But she was saying,
"People don't want that at this time."
And I said: "This was always a small slice-of-life piece â maybe it's
old-fashioned." But the thing that affected me was the message: that we
all have potential, that if you can find someone in your life to tell
you that you can go farther than you think you can" I said: "Joyce,
it does apply to today! Good values, good sense." I read some books from
that period that are about manners, and it struck me as being not about
charm but about: be kind. In Bobbi's speech, she says these are
changing times. The lack of communication, the post office â this is
significant to me: only 10 or 20 percent of the mail that goes through is in
cursive. It's typed, it's from the computer, it's printed. We're losing
these things. It's something I don't want to see lost.
NUSSBAUM Do you think it was a mistake to put the play in a big
FAWCETT Well, when we got the Cort Theater, everybody got so excited,
and when they get excited, they don't think clearly. But I thought,
what's the worst that can happen? The play gets bad reviews and closes.
It's not like you're shot, you're dying. Life is sweetened by risk.
Because it takes a lot of guts to get out there in front of all those eyes.
NUSSBAUM Do you feel burned by the decision?
FAWCETT I feel disappointed. I mean, let me go up there and let them
say what they may!
Like my father said, "It's not how far you fall, it's how quickly you
bounce." And that's the problem with the play's ending. I wanted you to
see her bounce. You know: "I'm bruised, I'm hurt, but I will not go
gentle into that good night. Uh-uh!"