Publicist Turns Playwright With Mixed Results
Neil Koenigsberg's first full-length play gets West Coast premiere, directed by Amy Madigan.
Public relations was never the same after Neil Koenigsberg and Michael Maslansky merged their firm with Pat Kingsley in the early eighties forming PMK, which cornered the market on celebrity access to names like Jodie Foster, Meryl Streep and Tom Cruise, (before he handed publicity to his sister, Lee Anne DeVette).
Since then, big names have come and gone, but their roster still includes heavyweights such as Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth and Bruno Mars, only these days Koenigsberg has nothing to do with them. He retired from the firm in 1987, taking with him a cadre of clients like Jeff Bridges, with whom he produced last summer’s The Giver, and Amy Madigan, who’s directing his first full-length play, Off the King’s Road at L.A.’s Odyssey Theatre through August 2.
A dramedy that premiered in 2013 at New York’s Theatre for the New City, King’s Road is about a recent widow (Tom Bower), who seeks solace at a London hotel where he meets a sympathetic Croatian prostitute (Maria Zyrianova), an overly ambitious hotel clerk (Michael Uribes), and a solicitous widow played by Casey Kramer, daughter of legendary filmmaker Stanley Kramer. Thaddeus Shafer plays his L.A. therapist, who could use a little therapy of his own,
After stepping away from the business eight years ago, Koenigsberg travelled through Europe for two months where he found himself holed up in a London hotel, writing dialog. Returning home, he honed his playwriting skills at UCSB Artist’s Lab and Actor’s Studio, New York, then authored a pair of one acts – On a Bench (2008) and Fit (2010), before embarking on Off the King’s Road. What began as an hour-long two-hander five years ago with the Actor’s Studio, was expanded into a full-length play with three characters added as well as an additional hour of running time.
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Well reviewed in its New York run, the Los Angeles production, featuring a new cast and director, hoped to repeat that success. “Each actor brings a different energy, and you bring a director who has her own ideas, and you have to let go of the last production,” Koenigsberg tells The Hollywood Reporter. “This evolved into something a little different. I’m proud of both productions. It’s just different.”
An Oscar nominee for the 1985 character drama, Twice in a Lifetime, Madigan’s experience as a director was limited to staged readings and workshops. When approached by Koenigsberg, she welcomed the opportunity to helm the production, albeit with some trepidation. “I think Neil kind of thought he wrote a comedy in some ways. And I would say to him, you didn’t write a comedy. You wrote a very in-depth profile of this man who’s going through a big giant change in his life,” observes Madigan. “I think he tackled some very difficult problems in a very realistic and poignant way, but also he had people having fun and being quirky and funny. So I wanted the actors to find humor in these people.”
In a counter-intuitive move, scenes and elements that were deleted or altered for the sake of rhythm in the New York run were restored in L.A., rendering it closer to Koenigsberg’s original vision. “I think Neil was pleased with that, cause I don’t think he realized how in depth this play was,” notes Madigan. “He saw us really uncover a lot of stuff with this.”
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Koenigsberg certainly seems pleased, noting, “I can’t say enough about Amy, to see her joy with the actors.” Critics, on the other hand seem less than pleased with the Los Angeles Times calling it “plodding” and “tonally inconsistent,” and L.A. Weekly finding it, “not very good.”
“I’ve never worked harder on anything, but I feel personally very fulfilled and gratified,” says Madigan. “If there’s a bad review, it’s my fault. If it’s a good review, it’s the actors. They get the glory.”
As for Koenigsberg, he remains undaunted as he workshops a new play and prepares for the release of a documentary he produced, Tab Hunter Confidential. “I’m 72 years old and I feel like a kid sometimes, and that’s a good thing,” he sighs. “You’ve got to keep creating.”