Thursday, April 15, 2021

531. THREE BY FERLINGHETTI. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Roger Morden, Martha Greenhouse.
THREE BY FERLINGHETTI [Comedy-Drama/One-Acts] A: Lawrence Ferlinghetti; D: William E. Hunt; S: Sandi Marks; C: Deborah Foster; L: Ray McCutcheon; P: Winters/Rosen Productions i/a/w Elliott Taubenslag; T: Jan Hus Theatre (OB); 9/22/70-9/27/70 (8)

“Three Thousand Ants,” “The Allegation,” and “The Victims of Amnesia,” by well-known beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti (who died at 102 on February 22 of this year), appalled the critics by their dull, excessively symbolic, and heavily philosophical tone. To Clive Barnes, for example, they were “windy allegories set on some far horizon of poetic sensibility.” John Simon called them “one viscous mass enlivened by two intermissions.” He did note, however, that they read better than they played. One reason he offered was because the author’s elaborately written stage directions were beyond the ability of the producer to express onstage; another is because the director ignored the poet’s requirements.

In “Three Thousand Ants,” considered the best play, an unhappily married man and woman are in bed when he looks out a window and sees a yacht sinking and its passengers saved by an airplane. In the next play, “The Allegation,” a woman keeps an alligator as a pet, but the reptile wants its freedom, and an Indian thinks it should have it. But his advocacy goes nowhere as the alligator and its mistress are unable to break their psychological shackles. In the third, and weakest piece, “The Victims of Amnesia,” a woman chats with a hotel reception clerk, a former  train conductor, who soon conducts her to her room, where she gives unassisted birth to three babies. Downstairs, at his desk, the clerk threatens the audience as images of feet and carnage are projected on a wall.

The trapped actors were Roger Morden, Martha Greenhouse, and Charles Gregory, “who,” said Barnes, “showed no embarrassment whatsoever.”  

Next up: The Three Sisters.

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                                       

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

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 From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

E.H. Wright, Martha Flowers, Barbara Montgomery, Howard Porter. (Photo: Amnon Ben Nomis.) 
THOUGHTS [Musical/Race/Show Business/Southern] B/M/LY: Lamar Alford; ADD. LY: Megan Terry, Jose Tapia; D: Michael Schultz; CH: Jan Mickens; S: Stuart Wurtzel; C: Joseph Thomas; L: Ken Billington; P: Arthur Whitelaw, Seth Harrison, and Dallas Alinder; T: Theatre de Lys (OB); 3/19/73-4/6/73 (24)

Following an enthusiastic review from the Times for its Off-Off Broadway showing at La Mama E.T.C., Thoughts ventured forth as a regular Off-Broadway show, with the same cast, a month later. Once more Clive Barnes sang its praises, but neither his notice nor several other positive ones induced the public to keep the show alive.

Thoughts is a brief, simple, nostalgic, autobiographical account of a Black musician’s (Howard Porter) youth and developing maturity as the son of a poor Montgomery, Alabama, pastor. The boy is seen growing up in a series of vignettes with other local characters until he makes a success of himself in New York show biz.

Lamar Alford wrote the entire musical, except for some lyrics, and Barnes and others were generally mpressed. Thoughts is essentially bookless and tells its story through “gospel, country, and hard-rock rhythms,” wrote Walter Kerr. Barnes found the revelation of the musician’s travails surviving in a white world throbbing with “style, guts and compassion,” and he deemed the music “vibrantly and defiantly effective.” Kerr also saw much of value, but he was unenthusiastic about the work’s inconclusiveness, its lack of “emotional overtones,” and the incompletely realized characters.

Among the better-known players were Barbara Montgomery and Mary Alice.

Note: Michael Schultz restaged the show for Off Broadway, while the original director, Jan Mickens, took credit for its “musical staging.”

Next up: Three By Ferlinghetti


Tuesday, April 13, 2021

529. THINGS THAT ALMOST HAPPEN. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Sam Coppola, Karen Rosenblatt, Patrick McDermott. 

THINGS THAT ALMOST HAPPEN [Comedy-Drama/One-Acts] A: Claude McNeal; S: Tim Wilson; L: Paul T. Holland; P: Jules and Gila Zalon; T: Provincetown Playhouse (OB); 2/18/71-2/21/71 (5)

“Morton: The Patient” [Mental Illness]; “The Courtship of Kevin and Roxanne” [Romance/Sex]; “Dominic’s Lover” [Romance] SC: Robert Browning’s poem, “Porphyria’s Lover”

An evening of three mediocre one-acts that to Mel Gussow were more “writings than plays. . . . [T]hey are devised situations, forced crises, and difficult to sit through.” Bloated by pauses (the author directed), these “long and tedious” works, said Richard Watts, “were stubborn in their uneventfulness.”

In “Morton: The Patient” a session between a bored analyst (Sam Coppola) and his patient (Richard Lynch), a man whose wife divorced him and who threatens suicide, leads to the discovery that both men are crazy. At the end, they exchange roles.

“The Courtship of Kevin and Roxanne,” set in 1959, shows a young man (Patrick McDermott) and his girlfriend (Karen Rosenblatt) in a car as he tries to talk her into having sex. A cop (Coppola) comes by and tries to arrest them for lewd behavior, but his superiors reject the charge.

“Dominic’s Lover,” inspired by a Robert Browning poem, presents a young woman (Rosenblatt) who goes to her schoolteacher lover’s (Coppola) flat where, bored by his inactivity, she invites over a man (McDermott) to whom she is attracted. She hopes this will stir the teacher to try and do something about it. The other man arrives, then departs, and the girl, perhaps poisoned by the teacher, is found dead.

In brief, this was an evening that almost happened.

Next up: Thoughts. 

Monday, April 12, 2021

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

Richard Mulligan, Marlo Thomas. (Photos: Friedman-Abeles.)

THIEVES [Comedy/Crime/Homosexuality/Marriage/Prostitution/Sex] A: Herb Gardner; D: Charles Grodin; S: Peter Larkin; C: Joseph G. Aulisi; D: Jules Fisher; P: Richard Scanga and Charles Grodin; T: Broadhurst Theatre; 4/7/74-1/5/75 (312)

Irwin Corey.

Herb Gardner’s marital comedy about New York life starred Marlo Thomas and Richard Mulligan as Sally and Martin Cramer, a pair of schoolteachers living in a lovely upper East Side apartment, but on the verge of separation after twelve years of faithfully observing their marriage vows. They have moved to their new domicile after years of struggling, beginning in happier days on the Lower East Side. As the years passed, their relationship, for reasons never fully developed, grew ever more frayed.

As the playwright depicts their personal problems, including flirtations with possible adulterous results, the New York environment is brought to life in the persons of Sally’s deaf, cabby father (Irwin Corey); a pilfering African-American student (Haywood Nelson); and various apartment house residents and street people, among them a hooker (Ann Wedgeworth) and gay man (Dick Van Patten). Sally and Martin endure their crises and survive unscathed to reunite in blissful matrimony.

Marlo Thomas, Haywood Nelson.

Contrived to milk every moment for laughs, the play was only moderately amusing, and barely any critics gave it more than polite approval, although it stuck around for the better part of a year. “How does a man of Mr. Gardner’s . . . intelligence bring himself to set down such tosh?” queried Brendan Gill. John Simon called Thieves a “sticky blend of the fey and sentimental” in which the author keeps “yea-saying to New York, to love, to human nature, to life, to promiscuity, to chastity, to whatever else he can vent his facile assent on.” And Clive Barnes declared that “nothing of particular originality emerges [from the play despite] moments of insight, even touches of urban poetry.”

The company was well-liked, but not overly so, with Thomas, Mulligan, Corey, Wedgeworth most frequently cited for the quality of their work. The sizable company also included such notable actors as David Spielberg, Sudi Bond, Pierre Epstein, William Hickey, and Alice Drummond.

Next up: Things That Almost Happen.

 

 

Sunday, April 11, 2021

527. THEY DON'T MAKE 'EM LIKE THAT ANYMORE. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Luba Lisa, Kenneth Christopher. (Photo: Impact.)

THEY DON’T MAKE ‘EM LIKE THAT ANYMORE. [Comedy-Music Revue] M/LY/SK: Hugh Martin and Timothy Gray; D: Timothy Gray; S: Don Gordon; C: E. Huntington Parker; L: Beverly Emmons; P: Costas Omero in the Timothy Gray/William Justus Production; T: Plaza 9 Music Hall (OB); 6/8/72-6/25/72 (32)

Arthur Blake, a female impersonator whose takeoffs included Mae West (who seemed more like Shelley Winters) and Gloria Swanson (as per Sunset Boulevard), was the centerpiece of this campy cabaret revue, designed to kid the greats of old-time show biz. 

It was disheartening to know that Broadway musical veteran Hugh Martin (Best Foot Forward, for example), was partly responsible for what Howard Thompson dismissed as “an incredibly threadbare paste-up of unsparkling tunes and rickety sketches.” One song, "Oscar," was agreeable enough, said Thompson. “This number, a thrust at the Hollywood statuette, at least briefly keeps Mr. Blake off the stage, as five energetic youngsters supply some song‐and‐dance respiration. Two do quite nicely on their own—Phoebe Otis and a lad named Kevin Christopher, both of whom deserve a better show. So would Luba Lisa, if she toned down that calliope stridence.

 And, as any regular theatregoer can attest, unfortunately, they do still make ‘em like that.

Next up: Thieves.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

526. THERE'S ONE IN EVERY MARRIAGE. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975


Patricia Gage, Jack Creley, Tudi Wiggins, Peter Donat, Roberta Maxwell, and others. (Photos: Martha Swope.)
THERE’S ONE IN EVERY MARRIAGE [Comedy/French/Marriage] A: Georges Feydeau; TR: Suzanne Grossman and Paxton Whitehead; D: Jean Gascon; DS: Alan Barlow; L: Gil Wechsler; P: David Merrick i/a/w Byron Goldman in the Stratford National Theatre of Canada’s Production; T: Royale Theatre; 1/3/72-1/15/72 (16)

Jack Creley, Peter Donat.

Turn-of-the-20th-century Parisian farceur Georges Feydeau’s Le Dindon (The Turkey), written in 1898, had been produced in French in New York in 1961 for six performances by the Comédie Française. The present version was its local English-language debut, and came to town from Stratford, Ontario, where it had been successfully staged by Jean Gascon. (A flimsy Off-Broadway revival under by the Pearl Theatre under the title The Dingdong arrived in 2016.)

A conventional bedroom farce about eccentric bourgeois adulterers racing about in a comic maelstrom of beds, doors, and puns, the play failed to hit the right note for Broadway hitdom and closed quickly. There was good reason for its French title not to have been translated literally. One or two performances were noteworthy, especially that of Roberta Maxwell, but the company did not fully satisfy. Among the better known actors were Peter Donat, Tony Van Bridge, and Joseph Maher.

Patricia Gage, Jack Creley.

The special Feydeau style and flavor were thought missing from this concoction about the attempt of a lawyer’s best friend, a bachelor (Jack Creley), to seduce his upright wife (Maxwell), and the wife’s desire to teach her philandering hubby (Donat) a lesson when she learns of his peccadillos.

“This is dramatic confectionary rather than dramatic architecture,” jibed Clive Barnes. Michael Feingold believed that the “players are so busy Playing Farce that they have no time to become their characters.”

 

Friday, April 9, 2021

525. THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Michon Peacock, Michael Vita, David Chaney, Alan Weeks. (Photo: Henry Grossman.)
THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT [Musical Revue] M/LY: Howard Dietz, Arthur Schwartz; D: Paul Aaron; CH: Larry Fuller; S/L: David F. Segal; C: Jane Greenwood; P: Gordon Crow i/a/w J. Robert Breton; T: Edison Theatre; 4/14/72-4/16/72 (4)

A jukebox revue in which a narrative frame loosely tied together around 40 musical standards about love’s joys and sorrows, written by the "hugely successful partnership of Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz. The songs included “Something to Remember You By,” “By Myself,” “That’s Entertainment,” “Dancing in the Dark,” and “Shine on Your Shoes,” most of them tunes with which a 1972 audience would have been familiar. Perhaps less well-known were numbers like "High and Low," Absent Minded," "You're Not the Type," and "Blue Grass."

The singers had character names and the songs were staged as narrative scenelets, but the direction often became intrusive, a number of songs were considered better left at home, and the performances were uninspiring. Clive Barnes summed it up as “half-baked in conception,” concluding, “That’s not entertainment.”

For the record, the singers were David Chaney, Jered Holmes, Judith Knaiz, Michon Peacock, Vivian Reed, Scott Salmon, Bonnie Schon, Michael Vita, and Alan Weeks.

 Next Up: There's One in Every Marriage.

 

 

 

 

 

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