Critics rain insults on Julia Roberts' Broadway debut

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The play is called Three Days of Rain, but, as the theatre critic for The Boston Globe put it, the production on Broadway should really be called "Two and a half hours of Julia Roberts". Yes, the reigning queen of the silver screen has made her stage debut in New York and - at last - the reviews are in.

Adoring fans of the "Pretty Woman" - and there are armies of them outside the Bernard Jacobs Theatre every night - may not want to read on. With a few exceptions, the arbiters of American stagecraft have given Roberts reason to make her first foray onto the boards also her last. The show, The Boston Globe tartly added, was also: "One hundred and fifty minutes of tedium".

The startling conclusion of most of the critics seems to be that the Oscar-winning actress who can command $20m for a role in Hollywood actually can't act very well at all. At least, not when her audience is a flesh-and-bone one, rather than a sympathetic lens.

A few, notably Ben Brantley in The New York Times - the critic who matters the most when it comes to productions on Broadway - appeared almost reluctant to admit their disappointment. Brantley, indeed, confessed to being a "Juliaholic". He entered the theatre, he said, feeling nervous, "as if a relative or a close friend were about to do something foolish in public".

First staged in 1997, the play, by Richard Greenberg, is not without its demands. Roberts portrays a young woman reminiscing about her late, larger-than-life mother with her brother and a friend in the first act, before travelling back a generation to become the mother herself. The cast, meanwhile, must also contend with being sodden some of the time. It does actually rain on stage.

By most accounts, it is the first of the two parts that confounds the actress the most. "Your heart goes out to her when she makes her entrance in the first act and freezes with the unyielding stiffness of an industrial lamppost," Brantley reported. He added: "She's stiff with self-consciousness (especially in the first act), only glancingly acquainted with the two characters she plays."

New York's tabloids revelled in the star power of the opening - Oprah Winfrey, Tim Robbins and Michael Bloomberg were there - but roasted the show. "Hated the play," the New York Post hissed. "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."

Roberts may be feeling a little battered and bruised but she is actually in good company. There is a long line of stars of the screen, large and small, who have gamely plied their art on Broadway only to be booed by reviewers and sometimes audiences too. Meanwhile, more positive reviews were offered by critics at USA Today and Newsday. The latter congratulated Roberts for ,"a lean, intelligent, altogether honorable performance".

The reviews

* "Mostly cloudy ... As if marooned on an unfamiliar shore, Julia Roberts staggers hesitantly through Three Days of Rain." The Washington 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." New York Post

* "Roberts, a cinematic ball of fire, wanders around the stage in the first act as if she's looking for the Prozac." The Boston Globe.

* "There's a tremendous excitement on W. 45th Street these days. Unfortunately almost all of it is outside the theatre ... For the record, Roberts does not deliver a train wreck of a performance." Toronto Star.