Friday, May 1, 2020

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 From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Alan Bates, Geraldine Sherman. 
"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For background on how this previously unpublished series—introducing all mainstream New York shows between 1970 and 1975—came to be and its relationship to my three The Encyclopedia of the New York Stage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.
Alan Bates.
BUTLEY [Comedy-Drama/Alcoholism/British/Homosexuality/University] A: Simon Gray; D: James Hammerstein; S: Eileen Diss; L/C: Neil Peter Jampolis; P: Lester Osterman Productions i/a/w Michael Codron; T: Morosco Theatre; 10/31/72-02/24/73 (135)
Barbara Lester, Alan Bates, Hayward Morse. 
A day in the crumbling life of Ben Butley (Alan Bates), London University English professor. Butley’s life as a practicing homosexual was briefly interrupted by a failed marriage during which he fathered a daughter. He must now face the pain of hearing his wife, Anne (Holland Taylor), announce that she wants to remarry. Worse, his male love, Joseph Keyston (Hayward Morse)—a former student and current colleague—walks out on him. He is also forced to recognize his own professional ineptness in being incapable of finishing a book he is writing on T.S. Eliot.
Alan Bates, Christopher Hastings.
The often scathingly funny Butley was a big hit in England, where its New York star, Alan Bates, originated the title role under Harold Pinter’s direction. On Broadway, the reviews were moderately encouraging, ranging from raves to reserved, but Bates’s “nonchalantly superlative” performance, as Clive Barnes put it, was the principal attraction for theatregoers.

The antiheroic Butley was viewed as bitchy, garrulous, alcoholic, sadistic, indecisive, witty, slovenly, egotistical, cynical, and anguished. The play seemed not much more than his nagging, acrimonious encounters with his wife, his lover, and his lover’s new boyfriend, Reg Nuttall (Roger Newman). Except for a body blow from the latter that floors Butley, the other characters were accused of doing little of interest other than to act as pins for him to bowl down.

Holland Taylor, Alan Bates.
This disturbed several reviewers, while others, like Walter Kerr, thought Butley’s “sick passion” was “in any explicit sense, unmotivated.” A few were at pains to explicate the social conditions that had led to Butley’s state of mind, and thus the reasons for the sympathy he provoked, despite his venom.

Bates was on stage throughout. He made “the evening blazingly his,” wrote T.E. Kalem, “as a man slouching towards bedlam—hair bedraggled, trousers rumpled, eyes aglaze, and with an adder’s tongue in his cheek. It is an indelible image that will find its way into dramatic legend.” Jack Kroll added, “It is a performance that makes you fall in love with the human organism.” His memorable performance handed Bates a Tony for Best Actor in a Play, and a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance. Hayward Morse’s excellence was recognized with a Tony nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Play.

Previous entries:

Abelxard 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