By Patrick Healy, New York Times
One of the lead actresses in "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," Natalie Mendoza, who is still recovering from a concussion sustained during the musical's first preview performance, is leaving the production, according to two people who work on the show and who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Ms. Mendoza's representatives and the producers of "Spider-Man," a $65 million musical created by Julie Taymor ("The Lion King") and Bono and the Edge of U2, have been hammering out an exit agreement for several days, and an official statement is expected soon, the two people said. They said they were not sure why Ms. Mendoza was leaving the show, which is still in previews, but they noted that she was still recovering from a concussion and that the show was physically challenging. The two spoke on condition of anonymity because the producers have forbidden public comments, given that lawyers and others are still fine-tuning the language to explain Ms. Mendoza's departure, an artistic loss and embarrassing blow to the production.
Ms. Mendoza's spokesman, Shea Martin, declined to comment on Tuesday. Ms. Mendoza, a 30-year-old film and theater actress best known for playing the lead character Juno in the 2005 horror movie "The Descent," did not reply to e-mail messages.
Her last performance in "Spider-Man" was on Dec. 20; the production has said that she has been on vocal rest since then, under doctors' orders. But she was also shaken by an accident that occurred midperformance that night involving her cast mate and friend Christopher Tierney, according to a fellow actor in the musical.
Ms. Mendoza was making her Broadway debut as Arachne, a spider villainess who has a major role in Peter Parker's becoming Spider-Man and who becomes obsessed with the superhero. Arachne is a signature creation of Ms. Taymor, the show's director, who also is a co-writer of the script; Ms. Taymor, in an interview last month, said that she conceived of the character several years ago after having a dream about the transformation of a normal teenage boy into a powerful superhuman.
Much of Act II revolves around Arachne, and Ms. Taymor and Ms. Mendoza had collaborated on developing a distinctive look and manner for the character. Arachne delivers the musical's title number and has vocals on five other songs, including an Act I turning point, "Rise Above," and the current final number, "Love Me or Kill Me."
Ms. Mendoza's understudy, America Olivo, and another actress, T. V. Carpio, have been playing the role recently. And despite its troubles, the show has been drawing well at the box office, grossing $944,138 for its four shows during the week ending on Sunday and playing to 100 percent capacity.
On Sunday Ms. Mendoza wrote on her Facebook page that she was grateful to be down to two nausea tablets and four painkillers a day to cope with her concussion. "Thank goodness I had such a brilliant neurologist who made sure I recovered properly," she wrote. "Nice to be almost back to normal ... almost anyway haha! Thanking God for peace, real friends, love and health and healing."
On Dec. 21, in the aftermath of the injuries sustained by Mr. Tierney, who fell more than 20 feet after his safety harness became untethered, Ms. Mendoza wrote on Twitter: "Please pray with me for my friend Chris, my superhero who quietly inspires me everyday with his spirit. A light in my heart went dim tonight." She did not appear in the next performance after the accident, on Thursday night, nor in any of the Christmas weekend shows.
In another recent post on Twitter Ms. Mendoza wrote: "Can feel a trip to India coming on & visiting my magic little orphanage Ramana's Garden in Rishikesh. Raising funds as we speak. Be the change."
A spokesman for the production, Rick Miramontez, said on Tuesday that he could not confirm that Ms. Mendoza was leaving. Michael Cohl, the lead producer of the show, declined a request for an interview.
Ms. Mendoza sustained her concussion while standing offstage on Nov. 28, when she was struck in the head by a rope holding a piece of equipment. She was seen by two doctors; one, a specialist hired by the production, advised her to take time off to recover, the actress's spokesman said early this month. But Ms. Mendoza insisted that she be allowed to go on at the next performance, three days later, and the producers and director, who knew about the concussion, allowed her to. Mr. Cohl spoke with the specialist before the performance, a spokesman for the production said; the specialist reportedly told Mr. Cohl that she could perform as long as she took it easy.
The role of Arachne involves several flying sequences, including one in which Ms. Mendoza is spun upside-down, though they are conducted at a slower speed than those involving the character of Spider-Man. By the end of the performance on the night she returned, Ms. Mendoza had a headache and nausea; she then took two weeks off to recover.
Ms. Mendoza is one of four actors who have been injured working on "Spider-Man" since September. Before performances began, one dancer broke his wrists after landing incorrectly during a flying stunt, while another hurt his feet doing the same stunt. And Mr. Tierney remains at Bellevue Hospital Center recovering from his injuries, which included a hairline fracture of his skull, a broken shoulder blade, a broken bone close to his elbow, four broken ribs, a bruised lung and three fractured vertebrae.
"Spider-Man" recently delayed its opening night by four weeks, until Feb. 7, to provide more time for Ms. Taymor, Bono and others to make changes to the musical before theater critics review it. Mr. Cohl cited Ms. Mendoza's absence from the show, as she recovered from the concussion, as among the factors that contributed to the opening-night delay.
Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company