Friday, April 17, 2020

33. BAD HABITS. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

F. Murray Abraham, Cynthia Harris.
"In Lieu of Reviews"

For background on how this previously unpublished series—introducing all mainstream New York shows between 1970 and 1975—came to be and its relationship to my three The Encyclopedia of the New York Stage volumes (covering every New York play, musical, revue, and revival between 1920 and 1950), please check the prefaces to any of the earlier entries beginning with the letter “A.” See the list at the end of the current entry.
Henry Sutton, Doris Roberts.
BAD HABITS [Comedy/Hospital/Homosexuality/Marriage/Mental Illness] A: Terrence McNally; D: Robert Drivas; DS: Michael H. Yeargan and Lawrence King; P: Adela Holzer; T: Astor Place Theatre (OB); 2/4/74-4/28/74 (96); Booth Theatre; 5/5/74-10/5/74 (176; otal: 273)

Bad Habits, consisting of two one-act comedies, “Ravenswood” and “Dunelawn,” named after the mental homes at which they are set, proved a hilarious satire on contemporary society and psychological therapy. It made the move from Off Broadway to on, with the original company intact.

“Ravenswood” placed a cross-section of married comic characters—a suburban couple always trying to kill each other (Michael Lombard and Doris Roberts); a theatrical couple who rival each other in the enormity of their egos (Cynthia Harris and F. Murray Abraham); and a pair of bitchy, middle-aged homosexuals (J. Frank Lucas and Emory Bass)—at an institution run by a Dr. Strangelove-like psychiatrist. His name is Dr. Pepper (used for a gag, of course) and he is confined to a wheelchair.

Dr. Pepper (Paul Benedict) believes in curing his patients’ conjugal problems by a philosophy of total permissiveness. He encourages them to indulge in every vice that they enjoy, no matter how harmful. He himself keeps downing dry martinis served by a Gestapo-like German attendant (Henry Sutton).

The chief doctor at “Dunelawn” has another solution to his patients’ difficulties—dope. The moment they begin to fret he subdues them with his all-purpose, feel-good serum, thus keeping them in a state of perpetual, but happy, vegetation. The three straitjacketed Dunelawn patients of the ever-smiling Dr. Toynbee (J. Frank Lucas) are an alcoholic (Paul Benedict), a Japanese sadist (Michael Lombard), and a transvestite (F. Murray Abraham). There are also two wacky nurses (Cynthia Harris and Doris Roberts), and a woman-hungry groundskeeper (Henry Sutton) who chases after one of the nurses in a frantic farce scene. On Broadway, the chase went through the auditorium and ended in a box.
Michael Lombard, Doris Roberts, Henry Sutton.
The entire company appeared in both plays but in strikingly different zany characterizations. Each received superlative notices for their comical cavorting.

Clive Barnes laughed constantly at this “really funny” show, despite its dearth of plotting. John Simon thought this was McNally “at his sick, mean, absurd yet purposive best, vicious crack topping vicious crack. . . . It is a hopeless view of all therapy, moral as well as psychic, and a hideous estimate of mankind, but one that shoulders hideousness cheerfully and even with some pride in its magnitude.” Walter Kerr liked Robert Drivas’s production but had reservations about the plays, detecting some straining for effect in an attempt at wit.

Bad Habits won a Distinguished Play OBIE, and Drivas got one for Distinguished Production.

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
Baba Goya [Nourish the Beast]