Wednesday, April 15, 2020

29. AS YOU LIKE IT. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Kathleen Widdoes, Raul Julia.
 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.

In addition to the shows chronicled here, the New York professional theatre produced hundreds of others, largely in the form of showcases receiving brief runs of a dozen or less performances, most of them unreviewed. Their credits and other significant data can be found in sources such as the annual series called Theatre World and The Theater Yearbook: The Best Plays of . . .

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.

There were two revivals of As You Like It between 1970 and 1975.
John Harkins, Bill McIntyre, Kelly Wood.
(1) AS YOU LIKE IT [Dramatic Revival] A: William Shakespeare; D: Joseph Papp; S: Santo Loquasto; C: Theoni V. Aldredge; L: Martin Aronstein; M: David Shire; P: New York Shakespeare Festival; T: Delacorte Theatre (OB); 6/21/73-7/21/73 (28)

Director Joseph Papp placed his revival of Shakespeare’s Arcadian romantic comedy, starring Raul Julia and Kathleen Widdoes in the leads, in a 19th-century Ruritanian environment that Walter Kerr deemed “roughly Napoleonic . . . frock coats, ample top hats, Dickensian pea-jackets.” The concept, however, failed to gain universal approval.

Clive Barnes found the idea “attractive,” but Kerr felt it made no “particular point.” To Barnes, Santo Loquasto’s set, which attempted to serve both for town and country scenes, was a “a remarkably bosky and verdant” one that worked better for the Forest of Eden than the scenes at court, “but the effect with its staircases and arbors is undeniably agreeable and imaginative.” John Simon, though, was repulsed by the design and felt it ran “achingly counter to the play’s manifest meaning.” He also disagreed with those who lavished praise on Theoni V. Aldredge’s costumes, in addition to calling them “tacky, uninspired and unperceptive,” having no connection with the text.

Of the production itself, there were some quite agreeable notices. Barnes thought the stress on the play’s soft and pastoral aspect . . . entirely valid,” but could have done with swifter pacing in the early scenes and more amusing clowns. Kerr liked many of the “isolated sequences,” but thought “the show as a whole failed to coalesce properly. 

Simon, who attacked everything about the revival, called the performances "garish," and said that Raul Julia’s Orlando comes straight from a West Side Story Puerto Rican street gang.” His even nastier barrage in the direction of Kathleen Widdoes’s Rosalind, at variance with almost all the other critical evaluations, accused her of “narcissism to the point of nymphomania.” But Barnes wrote, “Raul Julia offers us an Orlando of such ineffable and lovable simplicity that even the character’s foolishness becomes an engaging aspect of rustic virtue.” Of Widdoes, he said she was “a particularly spirited, at times almost hoydenish, Rosalind.”

Mixed opinions were offered of Frederick Coffin’s Jacques, too. Simon calling him “as charmless as his name,” but Edith Oliver enjoying his “droll, original” interpretation with its “boozy air and the jaundiced melancholy of a bad hangover.” Kerr was highly intrigued by Coffin’s reading of the “All the world’s a stage” speech as if it were an “almost idiotically obvious . . . explanation of a puzzle the Duke has just propounded.”

Actors of note in the production included Marybeth Hurt as Celia, Douglas Watson as Duke Senior, and Meat Loaf as Amiens.  

(2) D: Clifford Williams; DS: Ralph Koltai; L: Robert Onobo; M: Marc Wilkinson; P: Hurok i/a/w Herman and Diane Shumlin b/a/w the National Theatre of Great Britain; T: Mark Hellinger Theatre; 12/3/74-12/8/74 (8)
David Schofield, Gregory Floy, John Negtteton, Paul Hastings as Celia, Rosalind, Jacques, Orlando
The half-decade’s second production of this play was in the hands of Britain’s visiting National Theatre, which offered a much-discussed all-male version that had first been produced seven years earlier. It arrived in New York after first touring the country for six months but the company was not that of the 1968 staging, a fact of which the critics made disparaging note.
David Schofield, Gregory Floy, Nigel Hawthorne (as Touchstone).
Clifford Williams’s concept, based on ideas found in the “Shakespeare’s Bitter Arcadia” essay in Polish critic Jan Kott’s controversial book, Shakespeare, Our Contemporary, aimed to explore the sexual ambiguities of Shakespeare’s comedy by having the female roles played by men. The result, at least in this Broadway mounting, led most critics to consider it like a drag show with an unambiguously homosexual aura. Much of this was due to what was seen as the excessively campy portrayals of Rosalind by Gregory Floy, Celia by David Schofield, and Phebe by Christopher Neame. There were also intimations in some of the male roles of a gay orientation.
Geoffrey Burridge, Christopher Neame as Silvius and Phebe.
Most of the critics were dissatisfied with the concept. A few argued that a more authentic approach would have been to  use adolescent males, not adult ones. The effect, John Simon wrote, turned out “militantly wronte-headed and perverse.” Brendan Gill and John Beauforet did not believe the gay slant was all that obvious, however. Gill said the plot became clearer through having the girls played by men.
David Schofield, GregoryFloy, John Flint (as Charles), Paul Hastings.
Overall, the show lacked strong acting and seemed “dull” (Douglas Watt), “just acceptable” (Martin Gottfried), and “merely a novelty” (Howard Kissell).

The 1968 unisex costumes and black and white geometric plastic and aluminum settings of Ralph Koltai, which suggested a “mod” Carnaby Street look, were attractive but clearly dated in 1974, while the soft rock music of Marc Wilkinson, played by a strolling onstage combo, was commendable.

Prior to this revival, New York in the 20th century had seen 13 others, the most successful being in 1950 when Katharine Hepburn played Rosalind at the Cort Theatre in a staging that ran 144 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
Any Resemblance to Persons Living or Dead