If the playbill for Sophie Treadwell’s Machinal at the American Airlines Theatre is correct, in the opening week of 2014 there were 34 Broadway theatres with shows playing (give or take a little).
Machinal is likely to please Roundabout subscribers thanks to a brisk, stylish production which owes much to a dizzying revolve and an outstanding performance from Rebecca Hall as Ruth Snyder, an ordinary American wife who sensationally murdered her boring husband in the mid-1920s.
Readers might wish to note that the star of this very American psychological drama is British, as is its director, Lyndsey Turner, making her Broadway debut following the recent London successes of Posh and Chimerica.
The designer, who adds so much to the evening, recalling Edward Hopper’s archetypally American paintings and others of the era, is yet another British female, Es Devlin.
All three ladies are fine examples of what the UK has to offer Broadway, especially when it comes to that almost moribund genre, the straight play.
Of the 34 theatres, only six have straight plays in the repertoire. Two are running pairings imported from London and, of the remaining four, two American classics, Machinal and Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie (John Tiffany) plus a Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (David Leveaux), starring Condola Rashad and Orlando Bloom, have British directors.
This means that only a single Shakespeare (a British playwright, one might wryly note), Macbeth at LCT, Anne-Marie Duff pairing with Ethan Hawke, is directed by an American, Jack O'Brien.
One might also observe that the only one of these deductions that does not have a British actor in a leading role is The Glass Menagerie.
There is obviously a great deal of good work going on off-Broadway, but this depressing state of affairs must mean that younger American directors and, to a lesser degree, actors have little to aspire to unless they can hook a musical or turn their talents towards film.
The contrast with London is amazing where, between the West End, National and Royal Court, younger directors have a regular chance to shine. The good news for them is that they will also potentially be considerably more marketable on Broadway as home-grown talent.
It also helps to explain why British directors do so well when it comes to film, having enjoyed a far better balanced apprenticeship than their colleagues on the far side of the Atlantic.
The recession did begin to bring back straight plays to New York, but that seems to be a thing of the past, which is generally great news for all, bar those who can get too much of musicals, especially when they represent 85% of all that is available.
There is no obvious solution but perhaps one might expect America’s finest to consider cutting their teeth in London where there are so many more opportunities.
In the meantime, New Yorkers can at least enjoy the work of John Tiffany and Lyndsey Turner, not to mention that large British acting contingent that remains disproportionately popular in the Big Apple.