March 6, 2015 / 5:13 PM / in 2 years

Critical enthusiasm lags for Larry David's play 'Fish in Dark'

Actor Larry David poses during Amazon's premiere screening of the TV series "Transparent" at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, California, September 15, 2014.Kevork Djansezian

NEW YORK (Reuters) - "Fish in the Dark," a new play by comedian Larry David, is the hottest ticket on Broadway, but critics said the lightweight, 60s-style comedy flounders with one liners and a weak plot.

The play racked up a record of more than $13.5 million in advance sales ahead of its first preview and opening on Thursday at the Cort Theater, largely on the popularity of David.

It is the first play by David, the co-creator and writer of the hit comedy series "Seinfeld" and the star of HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

But critics failed to warm to the comedy, about two sons gathering around the deathbed of their father and squabbling over who will get a Rolex watch and care for his widow.

"Strangely, for a man who has done as much as anyone to redefine the tone of television sitcoms during the past few decades, Mr. David has written a play that, four-letter language aside, feels like a throwback to the mid-1960s, when Neil Simon was king of the punch line," said the New York Times.

USA Today described it as "light and flaky 'Fish'" and the Wall Street Journal said it was "more in the nature of a well-renumerated personal appearance than an actual play."

David, 67, said he was inspired to write "Fish in the Dark" after a close friend told him about the death of his father. The Brooklyn-born, bespectacled comedian plays Norman Drexel, who together with his brother and assorted family members deal with their father's impending death.

The large cast also includes Rita Wilson ("Sleepless in Seattle") and Rosie Perez ("Pineapple Express").

"The best thing about the humor is that it's also unembellished and played without irony," said the New York Daily News. "These are just people, often very obnoxious people, lurching through life and oddball dilemmas."

Despite the reviews, the success of "Fish in the Dark," which is directed by Tony winner Anna D. Shapiro ("August: Osage County") and produced by Scott Rudin, seems assured.

It surpassed the previous record for advance ticket sales set by a revival of Howard Pinter's "Betrayal," a marital drama that starred James Bond actor Daniel Craig and his real-life wife, Rachel Weisz.

Since it began previews, it has been playing to capacity crowds, with tickets averaging $133 and selling for as much as $423.

Editing by Steve Orlofsky

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