Friday, April 17, 2020

32. BABA GOYA [a.k.a. NOURISH THE BEAST]. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

John Randolph, Olympia Dukakis, R.A. Dow.
 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 . . .

0I 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.

Lou Gilbert, Peggy Whitton.
BABA GOYA [Comedy/Crime/Family/Marriage/Old Age] A: Steve Tesich; D: Edwin Sherin; S: Karl Eigsti; C: Whitney Blausen; L: Roger Morgan; P: American Place Theatre (OB); 5/9/73-6/2/73 (22)

[NOURISH THE BEAST P: Edgar Lansbury and Joseph Beruh in the American Place Theatre Production; T: Cherry Lane Theatre (OB); 10/3/73-11/18/73 (54)] 

Baba Goya, Steve Tesich’s farce about a screwball Queens family was well enough received during its subscriptions season run at the not-for-profit American Place Theatre to permit a stab at a commercial transfer to Greenwich Village’s Cherry Lane Theatre. The move made one casting change and also gave the play a new title, Nourish the Beast, but the play lasted only a month and a half.
Olympia Dukakis, Randy Kim, James Greene.
Presiding over the family is the earthy matriarch Baba Goya (Olympia Dukakis), married to her fourth husband, John Randolph), a man who thinks he is dying and consequently places a newspaper ad for a successor. Also in the zany household (reminiscent of You Can’t Take it With You) is an adopted son, a policeman named Bruno (R.A. Dow), who brings home one of his arrests, a young Asian (Randy Kim), instead of taking him to the station. The criminal is kept handcuffed to the radiator for much of the play. There’s also a divorced daughter (Petty Whitton) who has a persecution complex as a result of having voted for Richard Nixon; an old man adopted to play the role of grandpa (Lou Gilbert), but who keeps rejecting the term “grandpa,” and so on.

The play was decidedly funny, although its plot was often confusing and probably not meant to be taken as anything more than an “extravagant and deliberately inconsequential” farce, wrote Harold Clurman. The odd characters bore little resemblance to real people, despite the laughs they provoked. Several critics were in favor of greater verisimilitude in their depiction.

The result was a vagueness of purpose that led some to agree with assessments like John Simon’s: “Whereas I think I know what a play by Beckett is about, I have scarcely any inkling of what Baba Goya is driving at.” Otis Guernsey added that “The playwright has a knack of welding bits of the absurd into fairly naturalistic situations, a trick which is entertaining but maybe not yet quite as intriguing as it will be when he perfects it.”

The production worked well for most but a few were disconcerted by the directorial realism, which seemed at odds with the fanciful style of the script. Still, Tesich was given a Drama Desk Award as the season’s most promising playwright.
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
The Au Pair Man