“Ohio State Murders,” a short, powerful and pointed play starring Audra McDonald as a writer recalling racism and violence the character encountered as an undergraduate, will close sooner than expected on Broadway after struggling to sell tickets.
The play was the Broadway debut for its 91-year-old writer, Adrienne Kennedy, a much admired playwright whose surrealistic work has generally been presented on smaller stages and taught at universities.
“Ohio State Murders” is one of her most accessible works — it is essentially a 75-minute memory play in which the protagonist tells a gripping story about her college years — but nonetheless proved a tough sell in the commercial arena, even with strong reviews and McDonald, who is one of Broadway’s best-loved performers, in the starring role.
The production began previews Nov. 11 and opened Dec. 8 at the James Earl Jones Theater. It was scheduled to run until Feb. 12; instead it will close Jan. 15.
The production has had a hard time finding an audience — last week, when Broadway was flush with tourists, “Ohio State Murders” filled only 49 percent of its seats, and many weeks had been worse. It grossed $311,893 for nine performances last week; that was the high-water mark for the run thus far.
Produced by Jeffrey Richards, the play was capitalized for up to $5.1 million, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission; that money has not been recouped.
Broadway is always a financially risky proposition — far more shows fail than succeed — and the climate has become more challenging since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, because costs have risen and attendance has fallen. Last week was the best week the industry has seen since late 2019, but the riches are not evenly distributed: “Ohio State Murders” follows “Walking With Ghosts,” “KPOP,” “Ain’t No Mo’” and “Almost Famous” in announcing an unexpectedly early closing this season.