Thursday, April 2, 2020

3. "ACROBATS" and "LINE" (1971): From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

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.

Danny and Trina DuVal, Barnard Hughes, John Randolph, John Cazale, Ann Wedgeworth, Richard Dreyfuss.
"ACROBATS" and "LINE" [Comedies/One Acts] A: Israel Horovitz; D: James Hammerstein; ADD. ST: Grover Dale; DS: Neil Peter Jampolis; P: New Comedy Theatre; T: Theatre de Lys (OB); 2/15/71-3/14/71 (32); “Acrobats” [Marriage/Show Business]; “Line”

It would have been impossible several years later to have engaged for a commercial production so sterling a cast as “Line” boasted: John Randolph, Richard Dreyfuss, Ann Wedgeworth, John Cazale, and Barnard Hughes. All its players were to have fortunate careers in the 70s, although most were relatively unknown at the time. “Line” was the closing play on a bill of two one-acters, the first half of which was a 10-minute curtain raiser about a pair of acrobats who engage in a marital squabble while performing. Professional acrobats Danny and Trina duVal were cast in the roles but their lack of actor training was apparent.

“Line” is a satire about a group of five eccentric people waiting on line for some unspecified event, and the stratagems each uses to get to the head of the line. Its soon-to-be-distinguished company received only modest reviews for its work—they were recognized as able but not unusual.

An earlier version of the program had been done Off-Off Broadway at La Mama, and other versions had been tried elsewhere before a Los Angeles staging clicked. It was this version, restaged by James Hammerstein, that New York saw.

The critics were amused by the plays, especially the second, and most did not dismiss them outright. Clive Barnes was taken by Horovitz’s theatricality and clever dialogue and by his full-bodied characters, but concluded: “The insights are not worth the paraphernalia presenting them.” Walter Kerr approved of “Line” as a “brilliantly imagined conceit executed with wit and an almost inexhaustible inventiveness.”

Previous entries:

Abelard and Heloise