NEW YORK – The reviews, with a few exceptions, were not exactly encouraging, but, yes, Julia Roberts survived her Broadway debut in a revival of Richard Greenberg's "Three Days of Rain."
The New York Times, generally considered the most important outlet for theater reviews, burbled about Roberts the Hollywood star, the paper's critic confessing he was "a Juliaholic." But then he said, "That she does not do well -- at least not by any conventional standards of theatrical art -- is unlikely to lose Ms. Roberts any fans, though it definitely won't win her any new ones among drama snobs."
The city's tabloids were less kind for the production, which has attracted frenzied publicity and crowds outside the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. Celebrity first-nighters Wednesday night included Oprah Winfrey, James Gandolfini, Diane Sawyer, Dave Matthews and baseball legend Cal Ripken Jr.
Said the New York Post, "Hated the play. To be sadly honest, even hated her. At least I liked the rain -- even if three days of it can seem an eternity." The Daily News said, "As mesmerizing as she is on-screen, she has surprisingly little stage presence."
The Associated Press agreed, saying Roberts "gives a small, modest performance that throws off the delicate equilibrium of Greenberg's thoughtful, carefully calibrated play. ... The personality -- appealing, vulnerable and sometimes quirky -- that often defines Roberts in film is missing here."
Plays have a more difficult time than musicals attracting audiences on Broadway and need good reviews to survive. Yet if any production is critic-proof this season, it is "Three Days of Rain," because Roberts' star power has sold out the entire engagement.
The drama is a two-generational love triangle with Roberts portraying two characters -- a reserved, emotionally controlled daughter in the first act and the woman's spirited, high-strung mother, 35 years earlier, in the second.
But there were more positive reviews, too. USA Today, which gave the play three stars out of four, called Roberts' portraits of two very different women "credible, compelling and sweetly funny." And Newsday said, "Don't look for the dental wattage. Don't expect a glamourpuss. Julia Roberts gives a lean, intelligent, altogether honorable performance."
Variety, the show-biz trade paper, declared the actress to be "a beguiling but opaque presence where an insightful character study is required."
The production, which also stars Paul Rudd and Bradley Cooper, attracted a large number of out-of-town reviewers, most of whom were not impressed.
"Well, she gives it the old college try -- and that is all she appears capable of," went The Washington Post. And the Chicago Tribune described Roberts' performance as "so introspective and lacking in sexual energy that it feels almost apologetic."
The Toronto Star declared, "There's a tremendous excitement on W. 45th St. these days. ... Unfortunately, almost all of it is outside the theater."
Summed up The Boston Globe: "`Three Days of Rain.' Two and a half hours of Julia Roberts. One hundred and fifty minutes of tedium."