Sunday, January 24, 2021

450. SATURDAY SUNDAY MONDAY. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975.

William McCauley, Susan Merson, Eli Wallach.
SATURDAY SUNDAY MONDAY [Comedy/Family/Italian/Italy/Marriage] A: Eduardo de Filippo; AD: Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall; D/DS: Franco Zeffirelli; L: Roger Morgan; P: Barry M. Brown, Fritz Holt, and S. Spencer Davids b/a/w the National Theatre of Great Britain; T: Martin Beck Theatre; 11/21/74-11/30/74 (12)

Sam Gray, Jeff Giannone, Walter Abel.

A mildly diverting comedy that came to Broadway after a successful staging at Britain’s National Theatre, with the director-designer of that production, the world famous Franco Zeffirelli, repeating his chores with an American cast. The first play to reach Broadway by prolific Italian dramatist-screenwriter-director-actor Eduardo de Filippo, it contained elements of Neapolitan farce, commedia del’arte, and the subject of a cuckolded husband, all of which are bound up in many of the writer’s works.

Sada Thompson, Sam Gray.

Zeffirelli created extremely realistic scenery for this large-cast, three-act, family comedy, which takes place in the kitchen and dining room of a well-to-do Neapolitan family. It begins on Saturday night, with the actual onstage preparation of a ragu by the matriarch, Rosa (Sada Thompson), the fragrant aroma of which pervaded the auditorium. It then shows the consumption of that concoction at a Sunday dinner peopled by numerous friends and relatives. Finally, on Monday morning, the cold leftovers are finished off.

The central action, apart from the cooking and eating, concerns a marital misunderstanding between Rosa and her spouse, Peppino (Eli Wallach). Rosa has been cool to Peppino ever since she began thinking he slighted her cooking. He, unaware of his contretemps, assumes she has been having an affair with a good-looking accountant neighbor (Ron Holgate). The problem is ironed out in the third act after a monumental verbal brawl between the couple. In the course of the play, the many charming characters surrounding the married couple are introduced, along with their subplot relationships.

Eli Wallach, Ron Holgate, Terry Hinz.

Wallach and Thompson gave their professional best to this modestly pleasing enterprise in the roles that would be played on film in 1978 by Joan Plowright and Frank Finlay (Laurence Olivier played the elderly Antonio [Walter Abel on Broadway]). The critics were tolerant of the comedy’s blandishments, but were not lavish in dispensing accolades. They questioned the uneven use of Italian dialects, the too-long, two-and-a-half hour length, and the stock characters and plot. Most agreed with Clive Barnes that it was “a perfectly agreeable boulevard comedy,” but not much more.

Though all had their reservations, only a few, like Martin Gottfried and John Simon, were truly ill-disposed toward the play and production, which lasted a mere week and a half.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

449. SANTA ANITA '42. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975.

Lani Gerrie Miyazaki, Stephen D. Newman. Photo: Thomas Victor.
SANTA ANITA ’42 [Drama/Asian-Americans/Family/Period/Politics/Race/Romance] A: Allan Knee; D: Steven Robman; S: Jeremy Unger; C: Carol Odits; L: David Sackeroff; P: Chelsea Theatre Center of Brooklyn; T: Chelsea Theatre, Brooklyn Academy of Music (OB); 2/27/75-3/16/75 (32)

One of the major disgraces in American history, the internment of huge numbers of Japanese-Americans during World War II, was brought to national and world attention with increasing outrage in the 70s in books, plays, and films. The first treatment on the New York stage was this flawed drama, set largely at at California’s Santa Anita Racetrack, which was used as a detainment camp from 1942 to the war’s end.

The play focuses on the Japan-born Tamako (Lani Gerrie Miyazaki), who came to America in 1920 to marry, by arrangement, Satoru (Conrad Yama), a man much older than she. She had a son, Michael (Sab Shimono), by him. Michael grows up as the action develops across many short scenes. After he is already mature, she meets and has an affair with a white, American engineer (Stephen D. Newman), who gets her pregnant. Pearl Harbor intervenes, the family is interned, and, among other catastrophes, Michael is killed by camp guards after delivering a fiery speech denouncing American policies.

The ambiguous ending suggests either that Tamako remains to contemplate her future life or that she goes home to Japan. Throughout, she has been advised by a semi-realistic chorus-like figure, the Teacher (Henry Kaimu Bal), to adapt to life the way a Japanese garden does to its landscape.

Though well performed and directed, the play—despite evidence of writing talent—failed to handle its subject effectively, being “wispy and confusing” and never entirely clear or convincing” to Edith Oliver; lacking in “coherence” and being “simplistic” to Clive Barnes; too “slackly hung together” for Douglas Watt; “unimaginative” to Martin Gottfried; an too melodramatic for Jack Kroll.  

Friday, January 22, 2021

448. SAMMY ON BROADWAY. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975.

Sammy Davis, Jr.
SAMMY ON BROADWAY [Musical Revue] D: Darrell Giddens; P: Nederlander; T: Uris Theatre; 4/23/74-5/4/74 (14)

Freda Payne.
Also called simply Sammy, this was basically a showcase for the versatile talents of singer-mimic-actor-dancer-comedian-musician Sammy Davis, Jr. As filler, the show backed him up with songstress Freda Payne and legendary tap-dance artists the Nicholas Brothers. 

The Nicholas Brothers.

“This is essentially a nightclub show with Mr. Davis as the featured act,” explained Mel Gussow. Supported by an onstage orchestra of 28, the diminutive figure of the great entertainer, seen in the wide expanses of the Uris Theatre (currently the Gershwin), appeared “tinier and even more vulnerable than ever,” thought Brendan Gill, but Davis’s enormous energy drove him through “bursts of song, dance, wry jokes, reminiscences, laments over the onset of age, tributes to friends, and stern self-exhortation.”

Dressed in black tie and tux, Davis opened with some Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley songs, then turned the stage over to his backup acts, and didn’t offer another number until 10:00 p.m. when he completed the show with a 45-minute routine. One tap dance was included during this sequence. The part Mel Gussow liked best was the star’s rendition of “Bojangles.”

Thursday, January 21, 2021

447. SAME TIME, NEXT YEAR. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Ellen Burstyn, Charles Grodin.

SAME TIME, NEXT YEAR [Comedy/Romance/Two Characters] A: Bernard Slade; D: Gene Saks; S: William Ritman; C: Jane Greenwood; L: Tharon Musser; P: Morton Gottlieb, Dasha Epstein, Edward L. Schuman and Palladium Productions; T: Brooks Atkinson Theatre; 3/13/75-9/3/78 (1,453)

Ellen Burstyn.

An unassuming, well-crafted romantic comedy that had all the right ingredients for Broadway audiences of the mid-70s. It caught on at once and hung around long enough to make it the most successful straight play of the decade, running three and a half years. Its afterlife in regional and amateur productions raked in lots of additional profits. And, of course, there was the 1978 movie version, with Ellen Burstyn (of the original Broadway cast) and Allan Alda.

Its simple, but appealing, concept, arranged to have two already happily married characters, George (Charles Grodin) and Doris (Burstyn) meet one weekend in 1951 at a California resort, fall in love, spend the night in sin, and agree to get together at the hotel on the same weekend every year thereafter.  George is a New Jersey accountant, out West on a business trip. Doris, a Catholic, is at the hotel before making a planned retreat at a nearby convent.

Charles Grodin, Ellen Burstyn.

The couple’s affair takes them through 24 years of weekend encounters, in the same hotel room. The audience gets to see all the current trends in lifestyles represented by their changing clothes, language, and behavior. Six scenes show them at five-year intervals, so George and Doris’s physical changes become readily apparent in each new scene.

Same Time, Next Year was viewed as a perfectly adroit boulevard comedy, despite its basically implausible premise, and appealed to all the wishful thinkers for whom it was obviously intended. A clever combination of social satire, nostalgic reminiscence, mildly racy words and jokes, and full-blown sentimentality, it offered meaty roles for its attractive and charismatic players.

Charles Grodin, Ellen Burstyn.

Bernard Slade’s comedy was warmly recommended by John Simon, who said “it is genuinely funny, often moving, and slyly perspicacious throughout. If it does not rise into the domain of art, it at least never stoops to facile sagaciousness, obvious vulgarity, or straining for laughs.” Brendan Gill deliberately exaggerated in betting that the play would “run for twenty years.” He laughed “helplessly, all evening long.” Douglas Watt may have quibbled over the play’s slenderness, but Clive Barnes knew he had seen “the funniest comedy about love and adultery to come Broadway’s way in years. . . . Here is an old-fashioned, well-made play that is well made in a new way for new times.”

Charles Grodin and Ellen Burstyn helped turn the play into a smash hit by the excellence of their chemical connection. Edwin Wilson’s comment that “they are providing two of the most solid pieces of acting New York has seen in a comedy in some times” was representative. “Ellen Burstyn,” wrote T.E. Kalem, “glows with womanhood and the understanding of life that comes from having weathered life’s storms. Her performance has an unstrained authority and is resonant with insight.” Of her costar, Barnes declared, “His is a lopsided comic presence on stage, and he is even more consistently funny here than he was in the film The Heartbreak Kid. His comic sensitivity is so acute that he can give life to a line by a calculated waver of his voice.”

Same Time, Next Year landed a Tony nomination for Best Play and a Drama Desk Award for Best American Play. Burstyn won the Tony for her acting, and also snared a Drama Desk Award. She and Grodin shared an Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Ensemble Playing, while Gene Saks received a Tony nomination as Best Director.

 

 

TRUMP TRUMP TRUMP ALONG THE BROADWAY: PART 2

Julius Caesar (Photo: Joan Marcus)

 For Part 2 of my two-part essay on how Donald Trump was treated on the New York stage during his presidency, please click on THEATER LIFE.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

TRUMP TRUMP TRUMP ALONG THE BROADWAY. PART 1

James Badge Dale, Tamara Tunie in Building the Wall. Photo: Carol Rosegg.

For Part 1 of my article about how theatre handled the Trump presidency, please click on THEATER LIFE.



446. SALOME. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970--1975.

Lindsay Kemp.

SALOME [Dramatic Revival] A: Oscar Wilde; AD/D: Lindsay Kemp; S: Chris Sedimaur; L: David Andrews; M: William Hellerman; P: New York Theatre Ensemble i/a/w Alan Eichler and Ron Link; T: Truck and Warehouse Theatre (OB); 1/8/75-2/16/75 (30)

Scottish mime Lindsay Kemp--the Taylor Mac of his day--followed up his Broadway production of Flower with this eccentric Off-Broadway revival of Oscar Wilde’s one-act play, which the author wrote in French in 1893, years before it was allowed a public performance. Kemp, whose transvestite methods were evident in Flowers, brought a similar touch to Salome, doing it with an all-male cast. 

His attempt to conceptualize the staging began promisingly enough with an opening tableau in which the briefly-dressed company, wearing white clown makeup, stood stock still for several minutes. However, as Clive Barnes pointed out, the moment they began speaking Wilde’s words, the play flew out the window.

Kemp himself played Salomé in this travesty version of Wilde’s melodrama, but his performance was “a display rather than a characterization,” wrote Barnes. The critic also faulted the show as tedious, humorless, and bland.