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Casting call: Is Heather Graham leaving the new Neil LaBute play good news?

L.A. movies: Boogie Nights (1997)

This week Heather Graham abandoned the Off Broadway production of Neil LaBute’s The Money Shot (previews start Sept 4) for a “passion project”—a film called Half Magic that she stars in with Josh Lucas. At the risk of rousing part-time comments-section lurker LaBute, I suggest that this might be a good thing. Last time Graham was on a New York stage, it was Craig Wright’s fascinating post-September 11 play Recent Tragic Events. In my 2003 review, I recalled Dorothy Parker’s quote about Katherine Hepburn’s emotional range—A to B—and then wished Graham could get so far. Yeah, harsh. And although LaBute attracts Hollywood names, that doesn’t always equal the strongest performances.

In fact, replacements can improve matters. In the Broadway transfer of Jon Robin Baitz’s Other Desert Cities, I preferred the more subdued, nuanced acting of Rachel Griffiths over Elizabeth Marvel’s angsty agonies (and I’m a Marvel fan). When Jeremy Piven skipped out of Speed the Plow under fishy circumstances, Mamet veteran William H. Macy stepped in, a clear case of trading up. While I enjoyed the Roundabout’s re-revival of Cabaret, I am very pleased to hear that Emma Stone will be replacing Michelle Williams as Sally Bowles come November. Andrew Rannells as Hedwig? Haven’t seen him yet, but it’s possible he’ll rock it harder than Neil Patrick Harris did.

Fact is, casting is not a science, but it is responsible for a large part success—or hiding defects in script or direction. Scores of factors go into deciding who lands in what show—scheduling, back-scratching, box-office and marketing considerations, sex appeal, gut instinct, you name it. Elizabeth Reaser, coltish yet sensual two years ago in How I Learned to Drive, will take over Graham’s role. To my mind, The Money Shot just got a tighter focus.

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