Tuesday, April 7, 2020

11. ALL OVER TOWN. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

The following precedes each entry,

"In Lieu of Reviews"

Around 40 years ago, I began a major project that eventuated in the publication of my multivolume series, The Encyclopedia of the New York Stage, each volume covering a decade. For some reason now lost to the sands of time, I chose to start with the 1970s. After writing all the entries through 1975 and producing a typed manuscript of 1,038 pages my publisher (Greenwood) and I decided it would be best to commence with the 1920s. So the 1970-1975 material was put aside as I produced volumes for 1920-1930, 1930-1940, and 1940-1950. With those concluded, Greenwood decided it was all too expensive and not sufficiently profitable, so the remaining volumes were cancelled, leaving my 1970s entries in limbo.

To compensate, I used the research I’d done on the 1970s to write a book for Greenwood called Ten Seasons: New York Theatre in the Seventies, which described all aspects of that era’s theatre, onstage and off. Many years later, in 2012, I began a postretirement “career” as a theatre reviewer, which led to my creating this blog as an outlet for my reviews. Over the past eight years or so I’ve posted nearly 1,600 reviews, a substantial number having first appeared on other websites: Theater Pizzazz, The Broadway Blog, and Theater Life.

Now, however, with the New York theatre in suspension, and my reviewing completely halted, is probably the perfect time to post as many as possible of the entries I prepared for the never-published 1970-1975 book. The entries that follow are in alphabetical order. Each entry has a heading listing the subject categories of the work described: the author (A), the director (D), additional staging (ADD ST), when credited; the producer (P), the set designer (S), the costume designer (C), the lighting designer (L), the source (SC), the theatre (T), the dates of the run, and, in parentheses, the length of the run. The original entries also contained the names of all the actors but I’ve omitted those here.

I will try to post at least one entry daily. When time allows, I’ll provide more. The manuscript exists on fading, fragile paper and, because no digital files exist, must be retyped. Hopefully, the tragic health situation we’re all enduring will abate before I get too far into posting these entries but, for the time being, devoted theatre lovers may find reading these materials informative. 

Pamela Payton-Wright, Cleavon Little, Barnard Hughes.
ALL OVER TOWN [Comedy/Family/Homosexuality/Race/Sex] A: Murray Schisgal; D: Dustin Hoffman; S: Oliver Smith; C:Albert Wolsky; L: John Gleason; P: Adela Holzer; T: Booth Theatre; 12/29/74-7/20/75 (233)

Movie star Dustin Hoffman made his professional directing debut with this crazy farce in which 18 zany characters were kept whizzing in and out of 11 doors as the complications and hilarity kept dizzily accelerating. Murray Schisgal’s most successful comedy since the 1963 Luv was set in the East Side duplex of Dr. Lionel Morris (Barnard Hughes), a psychiatrist who believes that the criminal mentality can be altered by exposing the wrongdoer to a more congenial environment than he is used to.
Zane Lasky, Cleavon Little.
To prove his point, he arranges to house and then analyze tor two weeks an oversexed, jobless young man named Louis (Zane Lasky), who has been inconsiderate enough to father nine children with five women, putting them all on welfare. When a black hipster named Lewis (Cleavon Little) arrives to deliver a pair of shoes, he is mistaken for the prolific father (who is white). Delighted with the perquisites about to come his way, Lewis decides to lay along with the scheme.

When the real Louis arrives, Lewis has his hands full keeping him occupied and out of the way. Louis turns out to be a totally unprepossessing guy, who simply has an unerring way with the opposite sex, a number of whom fall into his clutches in the Morris household.
Cleavon Little, Barnard Hughes.
The basic situation is compounded by an army of outrageous types and subplots, including the doctor’s daughter (Jill Eikenberry), his adulterous wife (Carol Teitel), the wife’s Army officer lover (William LeMassena), his wheelchair-bound wife (Polly Holliday), a randy Swedish maid (Pamela Payton-Wright), a swishy black gay (Every Hayes), a Jewish Yogi (Michael Gorrin), and others.

This “cross between a sex farce and a satire on middle-class liberals” (Martin Gottfried) tickled many critical funny bones, Flaws, however, were apparent, including insufficient character development (Gottfried), implausibility (Clive Barnes), and problems of plotting, focus, and “schoolboyish” jokes (Douglas Watt). All Over Town was likened to a Feydeau farce, a form in which the implied criticism of contemporary social foibles is far outranked in importance by the need to stimulate riotous laughter. As Barnes summed it up: “Profound it isn’t. Fun it is.”
Polly Holliday, Barnard Hughes, Cleavon Little.
There were sidesplitting performances by all the principals (notably Little and Hughes), but Hoffman’s agile and well-timed direction was noted as the major animating force behind the show’s success.

Previous entries:

Abelard and Heloise
Absurd Person Singular
“Acrobats” and “Line”
The Advertisement
Aesop’s Fables
Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death
Alice in Wonderland
All God’s Chillun Got Wings
All My Sons
All Over