Saturday, April 4, 2020


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 multi-volume 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.

[By mischance, the following entry is slightly out of alphabetical order.]
Larry Blyden, Fritz Weaver, Carole Shelley.
ABSURD PERSON SINGULAR [Comedy/Marriage/British] A: Alan Aycbourn; D: Eric Thompson; S: Edward Burbridge; C: Levino Verna; L: Thomas Skelton; P: The Theatre Guild and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts i/a/w Michael Codron; T: Music Box; 10/8/74-3/6/76 (592)

A star-studded hit from the “British Neil Simon,” this three-act situation comedy takes place at three successive Christmas Eve parties (Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas to Come). Each act is set in the kitchen of one of the three mismatched couples who make up its cast. The same sextet appears in each act.

Jack Kroll suggested that the play “parodies Dickens, as if to announce the final expiration of jolly Old England, in which class tensions can no longer be sloshed over with plum pudding.”
Tony Roberts, Fritz Weaver, Sandy Dennis.
The action first shows the spiffy, yellow, vinyl kitchen of upward striving shopkeeper Sidney (Larry Blyden, succeeded by Paul Shyre) and his overly fastidious, constantly housecleaning wife Jane (Carole Shelley). Next, we’re in the untidy but not architecturally smart kitchen of downward moving, adulterous architect Geoffrey (Tony Roberts, succeeded by Curt Dawson, Scott McKay) and his neurotic, would-be suicide of a wife, Eva (Sandy Dennis, succeeded by Carol Lynley). The third is in the shabby-genteel, unheated country kitchen of big banker Ronald (Richard Kiley, succeeded by Fritz Weaver) and his bibulous wife Marion (Geraldine Page, temporarily replaced by Sheila MacRae).
Richard Kiley, Larry Blyden, Geraldine Page.
Each act is replete with farcical situations, from Jane’s being locked out of her house in a rain storm after a mad, furtive dash to the store for tonic water, to Eva’s blundering attempts to kill herself, to Marion’s antics while swimming in an ever more alcoholic haze. As the evening proceeds, the changes in social and financial station of the couples are marked, as are their varying stages of psychological and spiritual health. This is most noticeable in the financial superiority Sidney has achieved by act three. He is now being toadied up to by the banker, whose loan first got him started several years ago.

Staged by the same director who did the English production, Absurd Person Singular got mostly favorable notices, and became Ayckbourn’s first American success. He was hailed for his ability to write hilarious comedy while maintaining a steady interest in the development of his characters. Beneath the play’s wild behavior, the playwright suggested “a sense of desperation and even hysteria—the comic and pathetic faces of absurdity” (John Beaufort).
Richard Kiley, Larry Blyden, Carole Shelley, Geraldine Page, Sandy Dennis, TonyRoberts.
Most saw the work as concerned chiefly with the relationships among the British classes but Brendan Gill viewed it as a cynical examination of “the institution of marriage,” especially in the way Ayckbourn reveals the mistreatment of their wives by the three husbands. The play’s severest criticism came from those, like Edwin Wilson, who claimed it was too mechanically predictable.
Paul Shyre, Curt Dawson, Geraldine Page, Fritz Weaver, Carol Lynley, Carole Shelley.
The split-second timing required by this type of comedy seemed intact to some but others felt the cast of stars lacked a true ensemble technique and, apart from British actress Shelley, could not handle the accents. Miss Shelley and Larry Blyden were generally given the largest share of the acting plaudits. Each, along with Geraldine Page, received a Tony nomination in the supporting categories, Page also snaring an Outer Critics Circle Award for her Distinguished Performance.

Previous entries:

Abelard and Heloise
"Acrobats" and "Line"
The Advertisement
Aesop’s Fables