Saturday, May 23, 2020

116. THE DANCE OF DEATH (2 productions). From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

THE DANCE OF DEATH (2 productions)
Rip Torn, Viveca Lindfors.
"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 If you'd like to know the background on how this previously unpublished series came to be and what its relationship is to my three The Encyclopedia of the New York Stage volumes (covering every New York play, musical, revue, and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.

THE DANCE OF DEATH [Dramatic Revival] A: August Strindberg; TR: Paul Avila Mayer; D: Alfred Ryder; S/L: Leo Kerz; C: Marjorie Slaiman; P: Leo Kerz, Allan Pepper, and Stanley Snadowsky; T: Ritz Theatre; 4/28/71-5/1/71 (5)

Strindberg’s painful 1900 drama about the love-hate relationship of an overbearing military officer, Edgar (Rip Torn), married for 25 years to a shrewish ex-actress, Alice (Viveca Lindfors), set on a Swedish island fortress once used as a prison, was given an eccentric Broadway revival in which the leading players—both famous stars—emphasized the play’s black humor. They did so to such a degree that Michael Feingold thought it came “very close to farce.” A number of critics shook their fingers at Torn and Lindfors for their freewheeling histrionics, though admitting that the play’s inherent power emerged nonetheless.

The play had been cut considerably, leading to a controversy regarding critical dissatisfaction with the stars’ final version by translator-adaptor Paul Avila Mayer, who claimed that they had revised the work without his consent. Among the most serious excisions was the removal from the second half of the couple’s children. At any rate, the revival of this play, which, inexplicably, seems to be revived with some frequency, last so briefly that few interested spectators got the chance to judge the merits of the debate.

Others involved were Michael Strong as Kurt and Robert O’Herron as the Lieutenant.
Robert Shaw, Hector Elizondo, Zoe Caldwell.
D: A.J. Antoon; TR: Elizabeth Spriggs; AD: A.J. Antoon; S: Santo Loquasto; C: Theoni V. Aldredge; L: Ian Calderon; P: New York Shakespeare Festival; T: Vivian Beaumont Theatre; 4/4/74-5/5/74 (37)

The half-decade’s second revival of The Dance of Death was produced by Joseph Papp during the first season of his New York Shakespeare Festival’s habitation at Lincoln Center. It arrived after the company had begun with three new plays. As often, it met with little critical affection. Director A.J. Antoon’s version, like the one that preceded it, also made heavy cuts, especially in the second half, thus concentrating on Edgar (Robert Shaw), Alice (Zoe Caldwell), and Alice’s cousin, Kurt (Hector Elizondo). Again, the play was dominated by actors of renown.

Like Alfred Ryder, Antoon went for a farcical approach rather than a searing examination of conjugal relations. Even though Strindberg’s potentially harrowing play brings with it a number of laughs, this version sought in every way to find new comical bits, such as having Kurt greet Alice after 15 years by tossing her on a couch and playfully biting her thigh “It is all like something Alan Arkin might have designed for a play by Jules Feiffer,” quarreled Walter Kerr. The effect led to an imbalance in tone that made the drama uncomfortable to sit through. Kerr thought the interpretation insensitive, while Clive Barnes accused Antoon of letting his comic approach get “somewhat out of hand.”

Barnes pointed to many places where Antoon had ignored the author’s stage directions, such as when Edgar is instructed to leave the stage while patting a cat in his arms, and how these omissions diluted the effect. John Simon assailed the director’s “impudence and dumbness” for updating the text and attempting to do ineptly what Durrenmatt’s Play Strindberg had done so well.

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
The Contractor
The Contrast
The Constant Wife
The Country Girl
Crazy Now
The Creation of the World and Other Business
The Crucible
Crystal and Fox

Dames at Sea