Saturday, May 9, 2020



James Earl Jones, Earle Hyman, Robert Jackson, Gloria Foster, Zakes Mokae.
"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 If you'd like to know the background on how this previously unpublished series came to be and what its relationship is to my three The Encyclopedia of the New York Stage volumes (covering every New York play, musical, revue, and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.

Josephine Premice.
THE CHERRY ORCHARD [Dramatic Revival] A: Anton Chekhov; TR: Avrahm Yarmolinsky; D: Michael Schultz; S: David Mitchell; C: Theoni V. Aldredge; L: Ian Calderon; M: John Morris; P: New York Shakespeare Festival; T: Public Theater/Florence S. Anspacher Theater; 12/7/72-3/18/73 (86)

There were two memorable revivals of The Cherry Orchard in the 70s, one directed at the Vivian Beaumont in 1977 by Andrei Serban, and starring Irene Worth, and the present one, conceived by actor James Earl Jones as an all-black but theatrically traditional presentation. Jones played Lopahin, the peasant landowner, to glowing reviews. He also had been the production’s original director but chose to bow out and let Michael Schultz take over. Producer Joseph Papp, notable for the advances he had made in producing the classics with integrated casts, was testing the waters for an all-black classical acting company, an idea he returned to unsuccessfully late in the decade.

The notion of a black production of Chekhov aroused considerable discussion but the critics, for the most part, found the proof of the pudding in the production itself. The reception was largely negative. Clive Barnes saw “no special point” in the casting. He faulted the work for being “brusque” and for lacking “literary and political resonances.” He thought “the staging never quite took fire.” There was none of the surprise anticipated by Walter Kerr in seeing a black company do this white play. The result, aside from several fine performances, was “dull.” John Simon said the black concept “makes no sense whatever,” and the “deplorable” production did nothing to change his mind. Harold Clurman’s many criticisms included one aimed at the “quality of soulfulness” he saw nowhere in evidence. Douglas Watt felt that the company was “uneasy . . . in varying degrees,” but Edith Oliver was impressed by the “boldness and sincerity” of the playing. Martin Gottfried fond his antagonism toward the show’s “backward . . . liberalism” dissipated by “one of the most affecting versions of the play I have ever seen.” “Schultz has staged the play as a tapestry of faded romance,” he observed.

For the actors, the reviews were mixed. No leading thespian got away unscarred but the consensus held that Jones’s boisterous Lopahin was the centerpiece, a powerful performance that overshadowed the emotional Ranevskaya of Gloria Foster. Jones received the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance. Other noteworthy names in the revival included Zakes Mokae as Firs, Ellen Holly as Varya, Earle Hyman as Gayev, and Josephine Premice as Charlotta.

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