A Matter of Gravity

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A Matter of Gravity is a play by Enid Bagnold.

At its center is eccentric dowager Mrs. Basil, who chooses to live in only one room of her Oxford mansion. Her quiet existence is disrupted by the arrival of her grandson Nicky and four of his friends and new cook-housekeeper Dubois, who startles the mistress of the house by levitating in the air. The miracle confounds the woman, who begins to question her lifelong belief that God does not exist.

Originally produced as Call Me Jacky at The Oxford Playhouse in 1967, the play eventually caught the attention of producer Robert Whitehead, who viewed it as an ideal star vehicle for Katharine Hepburn. The actress agreed to commit to a pre-Broadway tryout run of six weeks (which ultimately was expanded to twelve), a twelve-week engagement in New York City, and a subsequent six-month national tour.

Following performances in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., New Haven, Connecticut, Boston, and Toronto, the Broadway production, directed by Noel Willman, opened on February 3, 1976 at Broadhurst Theatre, where it ran for 79 performances. In addition to Hepburn, the cast included Christopher Reeve as Nicky and Charlotte Jones as Dubois.

While the play garnered mediocre reviews, critics — particularly Clive Barnes of The New York Times, who wrote a lengthy feature praising the actress for the February 15 Sunday Arts & Leisure section — were charmed by Hepburn's performance. Nine weeks into the run, she asked to be released from her contract in order to film Olly Olly Oxen Free, and the production shut down. In October she started the national tour in Denver, then proceeded to Vancouver, San Francisco, and Los Angeles where, a few days after opening at Ahmanson Theatre, she fractured her ankle. After missing two performances, she returned to the play in a wheelchair. Soon after she made national headlines when, angered by an audience member who took a flash photograph, she wheeled herself to the edge of the stage and launched into a bombastic tirade, calling the offender a "pig" and accusing her of having "no consideration for actors trying to concentrate during difficult scenes or the people who paid good money to come here." Following Los Angeles, the tour continued to San Diego and Phoenix, where it closed in March 1977.

The play's sole Tony Award nomination went to Ben Edwards for Best Scenic Design.


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