Monday, April 13, 2020

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 From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Philip Bosco, Martha Henry, David Birney.
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.
Philip Bosco, Martha Henry.
ANTIGONE [Dramatic Revival] A: Sophocles; TR: Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald; D: John Hirsch; S: Douglas W. Schmidt; C: Jane Greenwood; L: John Gleason; M: Lukas Foss; P: Repertory Theatre of Lincoln Center; T: Vivian Beaumont Theatre; 5/13/71-6/20/71 (46)

John Hirsch’s staging of this great Greek tragedy about the struggle of an individual whose commitment to duty and conscience pits her against the authority of the state was an appropriate choice for the year 1971, when millions of Americans found themselves in conflict with national war policies. Few critics, however, were moved enough by the production to find it as relevant as it might otherwise have been. Harold Clurman, in fact, was so uninvolved he questioned the wisdom of reviving it other than for purely academic reasons.

Set on “a circular stage at the back of which designer Douglas W. Schmidt has placed a thick, high gray wall adorned by crumbling bas-relief figures” (Douglas Watt)—a set that divided the critics for and against it—the production offered an only adequately acted, uneven, and generally uninspired performance. Clive Barnes excoriated the direction as “execrable,” but Watt thought it “very decent,” and T.E. Kalem even described it as of “Olympian stature, the finest work that has ever been done” at the Beaumont. To Stanley Kauffman, too much weight was put on Creon’s (Philip Bosco) villainy, thus unbalancing the play, and some critics felt that the speech and movement of the chorus were decidedly mediocre.

The staging attempted to play down the elements of ritual and to stress realism in performance, thus making the story clear and the characters human. For too many, however, the effect was to rob the drama of a bigger-than-life, tragic quality. There were also some slaps directed at the excessively colloquial tone of the translation.

Each critic had a favorite performer (Bosco was chosen by most) but none of the actors were transcendent. Martha Henry’s Antigone ignited few sparks. The chorus, described as old men, was played by half-a-dozen actors, equally divided among men and women, none of them aged. 

Previous 20th-century revivals in New York had been in 1923 at the 48th Street Theatre, in 1967 at the Sheridan Square Playhouse, and in 1968 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, each for only a handful of performances.

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?
Anna K.
Anne of Green Gables