Thursday, April 16, 2020

31. THE AU PAIR MAN. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Julie Harris, Charles Durning.
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.

Charles Durning, Julie Harris.
THE AU PAIR MAN [Comedy/Irish/Political/Two-Characters] A: Hugh Leonard; D: Gerald Freedman; S: John Conklin; C: Theoni V. Aldredge; L: Martin Aronstein; P: New York Shakespeare Festival Lincoln Center; T: Vivian Beaumont Theatre; 12/27/73-1/27/74 (37)

The second play produced at Lincoln Center under the Public Theatre regime of Joseph Papp was this Irish comedy, originally seen in London in 1968. It was accorded only mild approval, which owed more to the achievement of its starry, two-actor cast than to the quality of its dramaturgy.

An allegorical comedy, it presented Julie Harris as Mrs. Elizabeth Rogers, a wealthy London dowager in whose crumbling home, laden with odds and ends redolent of the British Empire, the play takes place. When a burly Irishman named Eugene Hartigan (Charles Durning) comes to receive payment for a room divider that is serving to shore up the walls, he is cajoled by the doughty Mrs. Rogers into remaining as her “au pair man.” Under her Pygmalion-like tutelage, he gradually drops his untutored ways to become the very model of a proper English gentleman.

The playwright’s notion is to suggest through political allegory that Mrs. Rogers represents Great Britain, Hartigan the Irish Republic, and the home the declining British Empire.

The didactic hints were laid on rather broadly, and the author’s lack of subtlety in developing them for his vaguely satirical purposes was generally scoffed at. The schematic structure did give way occasionally to amusing banter and bits of fun in the staging but without the excellently conceived John Conklin set, with its multitude of Britannia bric-a-brac, the finely honed comic performances of Harris and Durning, and the “unerring style” (Clive Barnes) of Gerald Freedman’s direction, the production, like the house in which it’s set, would likely have fallen apart.

Despite its tepid reception, The Au Pair Man landed a Tony nomination for Best Play. Harris was nominated for Best Actress in a Play, Conklin for Best Scenic Designer, and Aldredge for Bes Costume Designer.

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
As You Like It