Saturday, April 11, 2020


Peter Maloney, Ron Faber, George Shannon.

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.

AND THEY PUT HANDCUFFS ON THE FLOWERS [Drama/French/Politics/Prison/Spain] A/D: Fernando Arrabal; TR: Charles Marowitz; rev. Lois Messerman; DS: Fernando Arrabal and Duane Mazey; P: Ted Menten; T: Mercer-O’Casey Theatre (OB); 4/21/72-9/24/72 (124)

Fernando Arrabal, a politically radical Spanish writer living in France and writing in French, visited his native land in 1966 and was thereupon thrust into prison on allegedly trumped-up charges. After close to a month, he was released but only because of the efforts of the international P.E.N. Club and such influential members as Samuel Beckett and Pablo Picasso.

Having witnessed firsthand the sufferings of the political prisoners he met, he wrote this controversial, horrific, violent, and burning indictment of prison conditions under Spain’s repressive, dictatorial regime. The American production was staged by Arrabal himself, first in an acclaimed Off-Off Broadway mounting at the Extension, and soon after in an Off Broadway version.

Arrabal used many theatricalist and absurdist techniques, as well as almost embarrassingly intimate naturalism, to tell his episodic, hour-and-a-half-long story of four half-mad prisoners—incarcerated for their participation two decades earlier in the Spanish Civil War—sharing a small cell and recounting and enacting their memories and fantasies. In these they sometimes played other roles as well as themselves.

To help capture the brutal reality of a prison environment, Off-Off audiences entering the theatre were manhandled by ushers (who immediately calmed them by whispering that they were not to be frightened). This was not necessary, complained Mel Gussow: “The play provides its own hammerlocks.” The device was dropped for Off Broadway.

During the course of the evening, the audience was assaulted by a succession of hellish pictures of man’s inhumanity to man. Arrabal presented tome extremely literal sexual, sadistic, and excretory images, including a much-discussed bit in which a nude prisoner actually urinated after being strangled. “How do you suppose he does in on cue?” asked Edith Oliver.

The effect of these nightmarish vision was “discomforting, almost unbearable,” for Gussow. The “extraordinary” play’s “power and pain” were deeply felt by Clive Barnes. A number of reviewers, however, were distressed by the work’s shock values, especially the urination scene, another in which a man ate his own testicles, and one in which a prisoner performed fellatio on the crucified Jesus (Catholic religious symbols were a persistent motif).

Even though Arthur Sainer was impressed by the totality, he thought the work “misguided” because the author had failed to transform his vision into a transcendent artistic one. And Walter Kerr was distracted from the horror of the effects by the many ritualistic, avant-garde methods that constantly intruded in the staging.

The eight-member cast included Peter Maloney, who later had a distinguished career, and Ron Faber, who received an OBIE for Distinguished Performance and a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance.
Previous entries:

Abelard and Heloise
Absurd Person Singular
“Acrobats” and “Line”
The Advertisement/
All My Sons
All Over
All Over Town
All the Girls Came Out to Play
Alpha Beta
L’Amante Anglais         
American Gothics
And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little