Saturday, April 25, 2020


Paul Shyre.
 "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For background on how this previously unpublished series—introducing all mainstream New York shows between 1970 and 1975—came to be and its relationship to my three The Encyclopedia of the New York Stage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.

BLASTS AND BRAVOS: AN EVENING WITH H.L. MENCKEN [Drama/Biographical/Literature/Politics/Religion/Solo] A: Paul Shyre; SC: Works of H.L. Mencken; DS: Eldon Elder; M: Robert Rines; P: Edgar Lansbury, Joseph Beruh, and Torquay Company; T: Cherry Lane Theatre (OB); 1/16/75-2/23/75 (46)

Paul Shyre, a skilled adapter of the writings of famous men into one-man biodramas, occasionally appeared in them himself, as he did here. The work was stitched together from the published works—mainly three memoirs—of outspoken American journalist H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), whose career included his co-editorship with the critic George Jean Nathan of two highly influential magazines, The Smart Set and American Mercury

It roamed widely over the many topics that Mencken’s columns touched on, from marriage to organized religion to literature to women to beer to politics, with Mencken’s much loved wit and skepticism retaining as much bounce as ever. The play was presented in a set representing, in realistic detail, the writer’s Baltimore library in 1930, when he was 49.

Although most critics expressed less than fondness for the genre, many came away with respect for Shyre’s accomplishment. His acting, in which he gave a thoughtfully precise physical demonstration of the irascible reporter—down to a suitably overblown paunch built with eight inches of padding—was consistently effective in capturing the man’s personality. Dressed in a striped shirt with red suspenders, and wearing wire-rimmed glasses, he moved about the library freely, now reading from his writings, now seeming to make up the words on the spot, now lighting a cigar, and now sipping beer or burgundy from a stein or wine glass. His speech was modeled after actual recordings of Mencken’s own voice.

Walter Kerr, who generally enjoyed the play, found that it depended too much on verbal one-offs with insufficient analytical support. “When Mr. Shyre does dip deeply enough into the available material to suggest thought behind the verbal shenanigans—in speaking of the Scopes ‘monkey’ trial or showing some sympathy for a rattled Valentino—the amplification, the getting down to brass tacks, is welcome. More often, we must settle for a collection of quick and easy adjectives.”

In sum, Kerr concluded, “A cavalier evening, then, but an agreeable one nonetheless.

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]
The Ballad of Johnny Pot
Barbary Shore
The Bar that Never Closes
The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel
The Beauty Part
The Beggar’s Opera
Behold! Cometh the Vanderkellens
Be Kind to People Week
Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill
Bette Midler’s Clams on a Half-Shell Revue
Black Girl
Black Light Theatre of Prague
Black Picture Show
Black Sunlight
The Black Terror
Black Visions
Les Blancs