Friday, May 8, 2020

87. CHEMIN DE FER. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975


John Glover, Ralph Drischoll, Curt Karibalis, John McMartin, Peter Friedman, Charlotte Moore.
  "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 If you'd like to know the background on how this previously unpublished series came to be and what its relationship is to my three The Encyclopedia of the New York Stage volumes (covering every New York play, musical, revue, and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.

David Dukes, Rachel Roberts.
CHEMIN DE FER [Comedy/French/Marriage/Sex] A: Georges Feydeau; AD: Suzanne Grossman and Paxton Whitehead; D: Stephen Porter; S: Edward Burbridge; C: Nancy Potts; L: Ken Billington; M: Bernard Segall; P: New Phoenix Repertory Company; T: Ethel Barrymore Theatre; 11/26/73-2/16/74 (42)

A masterfully staged production of a Feydeau sex farce never before seen in New York though written early in the 20th century. Typical of other works by the famous French farce writer in its mathematically precise mechanical plot devices, with mixups and misunderstandings compounded one upon the other, it was not, however, viewed as a masterpiece of the genre. It was staged by the New Phoenix in repertory with Durrenmatt’s The Visit.

Its complex plot, dealing with adulterous and non-adulterous love affairs among turn-of-the-century Parisians has a healthy share of the usual oddball characters, including a central figure named Fedot (John McMartin) whom everyone keeps mistaking for the man who wrote the play.

John McMartin, George Ede.
Although a few felt the play lost its high-powered drive somewhere in Act Two, most were very happy with everything about it, and there were accolades galore for director Stephen Porter’s deft, imaginative, rapidly paced staging. Also applauded were the hilariously manipulated characterizations of the well-drilled troupe. Typical of the responses was Clive Barnes’s: “It all runs as merrily as an Offenbach gallop, and occasionally breaks into a can-can.” John Simon said, Porter’s staging “makes the most outrageous string-pulling look rigorously human, and adheres to Feydeau’s intent as a faithful glove to its owner’s hand.” And Martin Gottfried added, that this was “a production . . . that couldn’t imaginatively be bettered by any other director or company, anywhere.”

The large cast included such theatre stalwarts as Richard Venture, Rachel Roberts, George Ede, David Dukes, Bill Moor, Peter Friedman, John Glover, and Charlotte Moore. The latter, who played Sophie, garnered a Tony nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Play. (She later became artistic director of the Irish Repertory Theatre.) Porter was nominated for Best Director of a Play.

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