Thursday, April 2, 2020

2. AC/DC (1971): From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

(The following prefaces 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), 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. 

A list of previous entries will follow each new one.

Edward Zang, Stefan Gierasch.
AC/DC [Comedy-Drama/Youth/British] A: Heathcote Williams; D: John Hirsch; S: John Scheffler; L: Burl Hash; P: Chelsea Theatre Center of Brooklyn; T: Chelsea Theatre, Brooklyn Academy of Music (OB): 2/23/71-3/21/71 (28)

An unusual and demanding play, first staged at London’s Royal Court, the plot of AC/DC conerns an odd trio who first meet and become friends at a penny arcade (designed brilliantly by John Scheffler with flashing pinball machines as a symbol of our technological society). There are the owner of the arcade, Maurice (James Cromwell), an “electricity freak”; Sadie (Susan Batson) a girl who views the future as a realm of TV images; and Perowne (Edward Zang), a TV victim, mathematician, and possibly Maurice’s lover.

The  play, which features a good deal of profanity, occurs in both the arcade and Perowne’s apartment—a “pulsating cell of McCluhanite madness” (Jack Kroll), where numerous TV sets (one critic says 16, another 20, another 25) are going full blast. The broadcast images, timed to the stage action, are diverse and offer pictures of familiar programming as well as scenes being acted and offstage action. The result of this extensive exposure has turned the two me into “bulb-eyed, spastic, argon-spewing humanoids” (Kroll).
James Cromwell, Jillian Lindig, Edward Zang.
This exceptionally well designed and staged production, in which the author was seen to be attacking the current age of electronic communications, was greeted with a mixed reaction. Martin Gottfried criticized it as an uneasy blend of electronics and live theatre, in a confused “underground comic-book” style. Still, he admitted, it “has an energy and a strength well beyond the common level.” John Lahr dubbed it a “visionary” play: “A brilliant schizoid melodrama of the Technological Society’s sensory overload.” Clive Barnes, however, rejected it on stylistic and linguistic grounds. “The work fails,” he asserted, “because the author cannot resist the hollow sound of his own cleverness, and because his automated puppets exist neither in life or the tragic no-man’s land of an artistic vision.”

AC/DC won the Obie for Distinguished Foreign Play, Susan Batson won one for her Distinguished Performance, and John Scheffler for Best Scenery. James Cromwell, who played Gary, later became a major character actor, especially on TV and in films.

Previous Entries:
Abelard and Heloise