Sunday, May 17, 2020

103. THE CONTRACTOR. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975


George Taylor, Kevin O'Connor, Michael Finn, Joseph Maher.
 "In Lieu of Reviews"

Reviews of live theatre being impossible during these days of the pandemic, THEATRE'S LEITER SIDE is pleased to provide instead accounts of previous theatre seasons--encompassing the years 1970-1975-for theatre-hungry readers. If you'd like to know the background on how this previously unpublished series came to be and what its relationship is to my three The Encyclopedia of the New York Stage volumes (covering every New York play, musical, revue, and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 entries beginning with the letter “A.” See the list at the end of the current entry.

Lynn Ann Leveridge, Neil Fitzgerald, John Roddick.
THE CONTRACTOR [Drama/British/Family/Labor] A: David Storey; D: Barry Davis; S: Lawrence King; C: Susan Hum Buck; L: Richard Devin; P: Chelsea Theatre Center of Brooklyn; T: Westside Theatre (OB); 10/17/73-12/9/73 (72)

British dramatist David Storey, whose two plays, Home and The Changing Room, had provided New York audiences of the early 70s with examples of his unusual dramatic skills, had written The Contractor in 1969, but it did not reach these shores until 1973, when it played at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre. Barry Davis, the director, also did the job for Off Broadway, but with a new company.

Set in Yorkshire, The Contractor—a highly commended work—concerned the preparations for and aftermath of a wedding party held on the lawn of a wealthy contractor named Ewbank (John Wardwell), whose daughter, Claire (Lynn Anne Leveridge), is getting married. Storey presents an almost plotless, documentary, slice-of-life play in which four workmen and their foreman erect, deck out, and dismantle a lawn party tent, each step in the process occupying a single act

Through highly suggestive means, yet always very realistically, the various characters are rough to textured and full-blown life. The dialogue is rarely discursive; instead, the lines, like most speech in everyday conversation, are fragmented and erratic.

Each worker is sharply individualized, as are the contractor, his son, Paul (John Roddick), his father, Old Ewbank (Neil Fitzgerald), and others. The relations between the newly rich Ewbank and the bottom of the barrel laborers are deeply etched and there is a subtle depiction of class-conscious concerns among these Northern English folks.

The matter-of-fact way in which the action proceeds, the authentic details of the construction and dismantling of the tent, and the verisimilitude of the acting and direction made The Contractor a much discussed work and helped it to achieve many honors. Storey’s metaphorical purpose in concentrating on the rise and fall of the tent was viewed somewhat differently by each critic. Clive Barnes thought it was the image of a human life. Walter Kerr saw it as the emblem of a vanishing way of life. Henry Hewes felt it was an allegory on the marital state.

A few opined that the original English production had been tougher and more harshly biting in tone, but most agreed that this version was an extremely accomplished one and that the company formed a polished ensemble. Each critic had different favorites in the cast. Among those most often cited were Kevin O’Connor’s performance as Glendenning, a simpleton worker; Joseph Maher as Fitzpatrick, a funny but nasty Irish worker; John Wardwell as the self-made contractor; Neil Fitzgerald as Ewbank’s senile father; and Michael Finn ads Marshall, another worker. The Yorkshire accents were, on the whole, convincing, and Davis’s direction was impeccable.

The Drama Critics Circle gave The Contractor its Best Play Award, the OBIES cited it as the Best Foreign Play, and the Drama Desk presented Kevin O’Connor with its Outstanding Performance Award.

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
Blasts and Bravos: An Evening with H,L. Mencken
Blue Boys
Bob and Ray—The Two and Only
Boesman and Lena
The Boy Who Came to Leave
A Breeze from the Gulf
Brief Lives
Brother Gorski
Bullshot Crummond
The Burnt Flower Bed
Button, Button
Buy Bonds, Buster

The Cage
Candide (1)
Candide (2)
The Candyapple
Captain Brassbound’s Conversion
The Caretaker
La Carpa de los Raquichis
The Carpenters
The Castro Complex
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
The Changing Room
Charles Abbott and Son
Charley’s Aunt
Charlie Was Here and Now He’s Gone
Chemin de Fer
The Cherry Orchard
The Chickencoop Chinaman
The Children
Children! Children!
Children in the Rain
Children of the Wind
The Children’s Mass
A Chorus Line
The Chronicle of Henry VI: Part 1, Part II,
The Circle
Clarence Darrow
Cold Feet
Conditions of Agreement
Coney Island Cycle
The Constant Wife