Two actors and a play have undergone a miraculous resurrection hereabouts.
The actors are well-known figures, staples of People and TV Guide, veterans of stage, screen and television. But both Stockard Channing and Jim Dale, who opened last week to rave reviews in Peter Nichols' "A Day in the Death of Joe Egg," have been cursed by some cruel casting god.
After three Broadway flops and a string of ditsy TV sitcoms, Channing is best known for her role as a catty teen-ager in the movie "Grease," a hard act to pull off again at 42. Dale, the British carny man who wrote the lyrics to "Georgy Girl," remains in the eyes of his public the high-flying acrobat in the musical "Barnum," a hard act to pull off at any age.
But Channing and Dale not only breathed new life into the serio-comedy about the parents of a brain-damaged spastic child, they also surfaced as serious actors. By the end of last week, the nonprofit Roundabout Theater on 27th Street extended the engagement, and some serious Broadway producers had cast an eye on the revival.
Nichols, who often dramatizes his own misfortunes, wrote the story of a brain-damaged child and her parents' breakup in 1967. After learning that his own daughter Abigail was incurably retarded, he turned a personal liability into what he hoped would be a humorously ironic asset. Unfortunately, no one else saw the humor.
Albert Finney tried it on Broadway. No luck. Alan Bates tried it on screen. Out again. Nichols moved on to other things. He wrote "Passion" (now playing at the Arena Stage). He wrote "Public Health," based on his own hospitalization. He wrote a best-selling autobiography, "Feeling You're Behind."
Part of the problem seems to be the title. Although the play is about a marriage under siege, the title, taken from the nickname of the 12-year-old daughter, leads some people to believe it pokes fun at retarded children.
But not this time. Frank Rich, writing in The New York Times, compared Channing and Dale's performance to a "Midlands George Burns and Gracie Allen." Producer Fred Zolo ("On Golden Pond," "Hurlyburly") is considering bringing it to Broadway, as is Manny Eisenberg ("The Real Thing"). Miracles being what they are on the Great White Way, now may be the time to see "Joe Egg" -- before the title is changed.