Sunday, April 5, 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 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.
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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.
Trish Van Devere, Robert Christian.
ALL GOD’S CHILLUN GOT WINGS [Dramatic Revival] A: Eugene O’Neill; D: George C. Scott; S: Ming Cho Lee; C: Patricia Zipprodt; L: Thomas Skelton; P: Circle in the Square; T: Circle in the Square Joseph E. Levine Theatre; 3/20/75-5/4/75 (53)

In 1924, Eugene O’Neill’s tragic view of a racially mixed marriage (a metaphor for the doomed liaison between his own mother and father—both white, of course—whose names the couple bear—was a work of shocking proportions, especially when its white heroine kissed the hand of its black hero. O’Neill’s treatment of miscegenation had little pertinence remaining, however, other than its historical importance, when given this first New York revival at the city’s leading O’Neill theatre, 51 years later.

The dramatist’s depiction of blacks was awkward and poorly observed, and his characters seemed more like “labels instead of characters,” said Douglas Watt. Watt blamed the play for its “crude outline and clumsy . . . speech,” and Clive Barnes cringed at its datedness, “patronizing” tone, and “bad writing.” Martin Gottfried saw no reason for bringing back this “curiosity,” and John Simon spurned it as “abysmal claptrap.”
Robert Christian, Trish Van Devere.
Just as bad was the production, with star actor George C. Scott, making his directorial debut, at the helm. “Why must this absorbing actor insist on becoming a dreary director,” queried Simon. Scott’s then wife, Trish Van Devere, in her Broadway debut, was embarrassingly ineffectual as Ella, while Robert Christian’s Jim was merely adequate. (Scott had planned an earlier version, in the late 60s, with James Earl Jones in the lead but it went nowhere.) 

David Sheward, in his Scott biography, Rage and Glory, reports that Scott and Devere "brought their offstage conflicts into their professional lives." He quotes Van Devere's understudy, Judith Barcroft:

I thought she was very difficult to direct. He wanted her to use the maternal side of herself. There was a scene where Ella is supposed to hold a straw doll. He wanted her to hold the doll and rock it. But she didn't want to go near it.
They had a tremendous fight just before opening and she left the theatre. So I had to go on. I didn't have any rehearsals and I'd never even been backstage before. The hairdresser led me around. But my husband was a stage manager and he had told me an understudy should always be prepared. I went on and got bravos.

The remainder of the cast, aside from Vickie Thomas as Hattie, the hero’s sister, was even less appreciated than the leads. On the other hand, the lighting was good enough to land Thomas Skelton a Tony nomination.

Previous entries:

Abelard and Heloise
Absurd Person Singular
“Acrobats” and “Line”
The Advertisement
Aesop’s Fables
Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death
Alice in Wonderland