Sunday, April 12, 2020

22. ANNA K. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Eugenie Leontovich.
 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.
Anna Mitchell, Rudolph Willrich, Lanna Saunders.
ANNA K. [Drama/Period/Romance/Russia] AD: Eugenie Leontovich; SC: Leo Tolstoy’s novel, Anna Karenina; D: Eugenie Leontovich; L: Richard Nelson; MVT: Elizabeth Keen; M: George Bamford; P: Rick Hobard; T: Actors Playhouse (OB); 5/7/72-12/10/72 (199)

Eugenie Leontovich, a famed actress who had performed in various Russian companies in her youth, among them the Moscow Art Theatre, and who made her American debut in 1922, conceived, directed, and acted in this bare-stage production. It attempted to transpose to the stage Tolstoy’s great novel, Anna Karenina (1878), set in St. Petersburg and depicting the tragic affair of Anna Karenina (Catherine Ellis), unhappily married to Karenin (Arthur Roberts), with the dashing Count Vronsky (Mark MacCauley).

Mme. Leontovich’s concept was to have a company of actors appear to be rehearsing the drama and then to step out of their Tolstoy roles to comment on what they were portraying.

This play-within-a-play idea allowed the actors to dress in rehearsal clothes, to work without scenery, and to suggest old Russia only by imaginative period touches introduced when needed. Nearly everyone played multiple roles, including Mme. Leontovich.

Howard Thompson was impressed by how “astonishingly well” it all played. This, he asserted, was “rewarding, riveting theatre.” Others, however, were not so impressed. Walter Kerr found serious problems with the loosely established premise that did justice neither to the novel nor to the picture of an acting company doing its own stage version. He also criticized the amateurish level of the performers surrounding the star. The acting, threw in Edith Oliver, was indeed weak, but she valued the “delicate, comprehending, and quite ingenious” adaptation, as well as the unforgettable mature beauty and finesse displayed by the aged Leontovich, whose roles included Countess Lydia, Annushka, and Countess Vronsky. 

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       
And They Put Handcuffs on the Flowers
And Whose Little Boy Are You?