Tuesday, June 30, 2020


Company of From Israel with Love.
FROM ISRAEL WITH LOVE [Revue/Hebrew Language/Israeli] D: Avi David; CH: Yakov Kalusky; P: Pageant Productions; P: T.Y., Ltd., and Col. Saul Biber; T: Palace Theatre; 10/2/72-10/8/72 (8)

Company of From Israel with Love.
An Israeli import, performed in Hebrew, and employing performers drawn from the Israeli Army Entertainment Groups unit, half of them men, half women, all attractive and talented. Not overtly militaristic in nature, the music was largely traditional but performed in contemporary modes, including what Clive Barnes called a “rock Hassidic” piece. Critical response was mild and the show quickly folded.

Company of From Israel with Love.

Monday, June 29, 2020


Grayson Hall, Madeleine Sherwood.
FRIENDS AND RELATIONS [Dramas/Death/Family/Friendship/One-Acts/Two Characters/Women] A: Eugene Yanni; D: Tom Millott; S: Steve Askinazy; P: Tom Millott; T: Provincetown Playhouse (OB); 10/14/71-10/17/71 (5)

Madeleine Sherwood.
Two of New York’s most respected character actresses, Grayson Hall and Madeleine Sherwood, were unable to raise these mediocre one-acts above the inadequate level of their writing. “Friends” showed two friends of the late, suddenly deceased Carmella, discussing her and the meaning of their relationships with her. In “Relations” and Academy Award-winning movie actress with severe emotional problems visits her mother in the latter’s Bronx apartment and tries unsuccessfully to ingratiate herself with the older woman.

Martin Washburn was irritated “to see plays as ambitionless and complacent as these,” while Clive Barnes referred to them as “quests for eccentricity rather than truth [that] pose little more to the spectator than anecdotes of oddity.”

189. DER FRIEDEN (Peace). From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Company of Der Frieden.
DER FRIEDEN (Peace) [Dramatic Revival/German Language] A: Aristophanes; AD: Peter Hacks; D: Günther Fleckenstein; S/C: Hans-Walter Lenneheit; M: Eric Tass; P: Goethe Institute of Munich and the Gert von Gontard Foundation; T: Barbizon-Plaza Theatre (OB); 11/28/72-12/3/72 (7)

Aristophanes’ ancient Greek comedy, Peace, was brought to New York by a German-language company from Munich, Die Brücke (The Bridge), in repertory with Büchner’s Woyzeck. Well-known modern dramatist Peter Hacks provided an effective adaptation for a lively production. Several modern songs were interpolated into the comedy, but not much of the bawdy Greek original’s structure was tampered with. Few critics took notice of it, however.

The plot of a vintner (Hans Putz) who journeys by flying dung beetle to heaven to save the captive Peace was intact and was played on a simple set to humorous effect. Masks and stylized costumes were employed.


Alun Lewis, Jeremy James-Taylor, Gavin Reed, Ian Charleson.
FRENCH WITHOUT TEARS [Dramatic Revival] A: Terence Rattigan; D: Frank Dunlop; DS: Carl Toms; L: David Watson; P: National Theatre of Great Britain, presented by the Brooklyn Academy of Music i/aw/ Brooklyn College, in the Young Vic Production; T: Brooklyn Academy of Music (OB); 3/15/74-3/31/74 (8)

Terence Rattigan’s delicate British drawing room comedy of 1936 is set near a beach in the warm, paradise-like environs of the South of France, where young English aristocrats are cramming for their diplomatic corps exams. Its revival was the product of England’s Young Vic company, which arrived on these shores with a repertory including The Taming of the Shrew and Scapino.

Rattigan’s theatrical soufflé was not as successful as the others, Edith Oliver finding “it pretty remote and wispy.” Clive Barnes thought it pleasant enough,” but somewhat “too hearty, jolly and theatrical,” inferior to similar plays by Noel Coward, and not worth the Young Vic’s effort.

Barnes was fond of the performances and staging, though, calling the production “delicious.” He described how the “artificiality” of the writing was stressed by director Frank Dunlop’s touch. Oliver, however, did not think the company up to the stylistic demands and considered the results “disappointing.” Cast members included Ian Charleson, Gavin Reed, and Jenny Austen, among others.

Sunday, June 28, 2020


Kate Reid, Lenny Baker, Allen Carlsen.
THE FREEDOM OF THE CITY [Comedy-Drama/Irish/Law/Politics] A: Brian Friel; D: William Woodman; S: David Jenkins; C: Alicia Finkel; L: F. Mitchell Dana; P: Konrad Matthaei and Hale Matthews b/a/w Goodman Theatre Center; T: Alvin Theatre; 2/17/75-2/24/75 (9)

Allen Carlsen, Lenny Baker, Kate Reid.
In the first quarter of an hour of this Irish import, the audience learns that three Catholic civil rights marchers in Londenderry, caught in the melee of Army and police attempts to break up a 1970 march with rubber bullets and tear gas, hide out in an empty building, learn that they have access to the Lord Mayor’s parlor, are discovered by the British troops who are under the impression that the building is crawling with terrorists, leave the building with hands over their heads, and are summarily shot down in cold blood.

The remainder of the play concerns an investigation into the tragic incident by the British Court of Inquiry. The ironic contrast between what the three innocent “terrorists” were really doing in the Lord Mayor’s room and the biased accounts elicited during the whitewashing court procedure is presented by intercutting scenes of the actual events into the inquiry.

Playwright Brian Friel’s three chief characters, two contrasted young men (Lenny Baker and Allan Carlson) and a poor, middle-aged woman, the mother of 11 (Kate Reid), are shown as earnest, amusing, harmless, and entirely likable, totally at odds with the official picture drawn by the court. During their hours holed up in the grandiose office they enjoy themselves by dressing up in his robes, drinking his booze, examining his papers, and using his phone.

Kate Reid, Lenny Baker.
Reminiscent of certain real-life tragedies of those years—and just as relevant today—The Freedom of the City struck a responsive chord with Douglas Watt, who termed it “a disturbing and lovely play filled with compassion and sudden insights.” Richard Watts could not believe anyone could fail to be impressed by its “dramatic power, its vivid writing, and its occasional flashes of humor.”

Others, however, such as Clive Barnes, John Simon, Edith Oliver, and Martin Gottfried had opinions that helped it to an early grave. These critics thought it poorly constructed, slow moving, predictable, heavy-handed in its irony, and its events implausible, if not impossible. The saving grace for some was the excellence of Friel’s character depictions, for others it was the polished performances, particularly Kate Reid’s. Gottfried, who called the play a “perfectly well done production of a perfectly boring play,” found no good reason to stick around, and left at intermission, an admission that would have gotten later critics into boiling water.

Among the better-known players in this effort were Henderson Forsythe, Joe Ponazecki, J. Kenneth Campbell, and William Bogert.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

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

Marjorie Barnes, Bill Cobbs, J.A. Preston, Estelle Evans, Dotts Johnson.
FREEMAN [Drama/Family/Politics/Race] A: Phillip Hayes Dean; D: Lloyd Richards; S: Douglas Higgins; C: Bernard Johnson; L: Shirley Prendergast; M: William S. Fischer; P: American Place Theatre; T: American Place Theatre (OB); 1/25/73-2/24/73 (37)

One of the few plays of the 70s that examined the problems of middle-class, as opposed to ghetto-dwelling, black Americans, this was a fairly successful endeavor both as writing and production. Its concerns were more universal than many other racially tinged plays, while never losing its pertinence as a reflection of black society.

Freeman Aquila (Bill Cobbs) is a desperately frustrated married man. The son of a Michigan foundry worker and a nurse, he’s made several unsuccessful attempts at finding a place in life, but has ended up living with his pregnant wife at his parents’ home. His best friend, Rex (J.A. Preston), raised by Freeman’s parents, has become a prosperous doctor.

Freeman wants to have his share of the benefits of middle-class culture, but is incapable of following conventional educational or social routes to success. A fiery idealist, despite his lack of qualifications, he runs for political office, but loses. Stubborn to the end, he keeps failing at his goals, finally being forced to take a janitor’s job. The ferment within him explodes, however, and he sets fire to the community center that employs him.

The play’s three-dimensional depiction of Freeman and its ability to make the character both sympathetic and irritating, as a man who suffers from social neglect and personal frailty, led the critics to view the work as a significant treatment of a meaningful dilemma. There were weaknesses in the writing, summed up by Clive Barnes, who wrote: “The play . . . starts slowly and ends a trifle lamely.” Or by Harold Clurman, who observed: “The play . . . is somewhat unclear in its factual exposition,” to which John Simon added that the first act didn’t work, the people were “obvious,” and the dialogue “scarcely endurable.”

But the strengths were so forthright that attention rarely lapsed and the final effect was of a moving, nearly tragic situation, outlined with telling honesty and truth. Simon’s passivity toward the first act was totally ravaged by a second act in which one scene between Rex and Freeman was so “perfectly conceived and impeccably executed” that it was “bewilderingly good . . . [and] way beyond anything Jones-Baraka, Bullins or any other black American—and almost any white American dramatist today could manage.”

The staging and performances were thoroughly effective, with what Simon dubbed the “overpowering” acting of Bill Cobbs’s Freeman being predominant. Cobbs won that season’s Drama Desk Award as the Most Promising Performer (which also recognized his work in What the Wine Sellers Buy).


Douglas Turner Ward.
Period/Politics/Race] A: Arthur Burghardt and Michael Egan; SC: writings of Frederick Douglass; S: Edward Burbridge; P: Negro Ensemble Company; T: St. Marks Playhouse (OB); 5/9/72-6/4/72 (32)

A literary evening of readings from the varied writings of famed 19th-century, self-educated black leader and ex-slave Frederick Douglass, presented by three actors—Douglas Turner Ward, Adolph Caesar, and Duane Jones—dressed informally in denim work clothes.

This “enlightening” program, as Edith Oliver dubbed it, was decidedly “undramatic,” though interesting for its revelations about the great man. Walter Kerr was moved but also found it basically untheatrical and lacking in sufficient interest to sustain an audience all the way through.


Linda Donovan, Larry Ellis.

FRANK MERRIWELL, OR HONOR CHALLENGED [Musical/Period/Youth] B: Skip Redwine, Larry Frank, Heywood Gould; M/LY: Skip Redwine, Larry Frank; SC: Burt L. Standish’s novel, Frank Merriwell’s School Days; D/CH: Neil Kenyon; S: Tom John; C: Frank Thompson; L: John Gleason; P: Sandy Farber and Stanley Barnett i/a/w Nate Friedman; T: Longacre Theatre; 4/24/71 (1)

Company of Frank Merriwell, or Honor Challenged.
Among the pileup of one-performance theatrical turkeys in the early 70s was this lame gobbler, which happened also to be the first show produced under a scheme that sought to reduce costs and ticket prices for Broadway shows by limiting the number of seats sold and keeping the weekly gross to $25,000 oR below. Cast and crew took decreased salaries for their efforts. Called the Limited Gross Contract, the idea failed to attract producers and was quickly abandoned.

Frank Merriwell was a devastatingly unimaginative musical version of the one-time popular Frank Merriwell stories about an all-American boy at turn-of-the-20th-century Yale. It looked shoddy, was ineffectively performed in a campy style, and was ineptly written and composed.

The action concerns young Frank (Larry Ellis) at a prep school called Fardale, where he undergoes a series of trials demanding great courage, including the foiling of a plot by a Spanish spy (Bill Hinnant) to destroy the school science lab because it contains military secrets.

Brendan Gill rapped the show’s “ineptitude” for failing to place Frank at his famed Yale hunting grounds, and Clive Barnes railed against this “modestly deplorable venture” for being “a very bad musical . . . without wit or period feeling or panache."

Among those trapped in this debacle were young actors like Liz Sheridan and Walter Bobbie.

Friday, June 26, 2020

June 26 in the 1920s,1930s, and 1940s: ON THIS DAY IN NEW YORK THEATRE

For the latest installment in my series, ON THIS DAY IN NEW YORK THEATER, covering the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, please click on THEATER LIFE.

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

Lindsay Crouse, Matthew Cowles.
THE FOURSOME [Drama/British/Sex/Youth] A: A.E. Whitehead; D: Jacques Levy; S: Edward Charles Terrel II; C: Bernard Roth; L: Ian Calderon; P: Huttleston Productions i/a/w Jon Pierre; T: Astor Place Theatre (OB); 11/12/73-12/2/73 (24)

E.A. Whitehead’s British play was here adapted to a Galveston, Texas, beach setting, with the language suitably Americanized. (An earlier production at D.C.’s Arena Stage kept the original North England locale.) Practically plotless, it centered on a hot day spent at a deserted beach by a pair of inarticulate young men (Matthew Cowles and Timothy Meyers) and a pair of brainless girls (Lindsay Crouse and Carole Monferdini) they have picked up and brought along for sexual adventure.

Whitehead exposes the narrow psyches of his working-class characters, who emerge as petty, sadistic, masochistic, snide, and pathetic. The men, in particular, are shown as unpleasant chauvinists, but the author also expresses “a distaste for women, amounting to downright queasiness,” according to Edith Oliver.

The transition to Texas was not a smooth one, and did little to help the play. Jacques Levy’s direction, said Clive Barnes, removed the “playfulness” of the original script about “tribal adolescent patterns,” and stressed the “hints of a latent homosexuality” in the boys, along with other themes that did not require so heavy a touch.

Sets, lighting, and acting were all commendable, but could not surmount the misconceived interpretation.

182. FOUR ON A GARDEN. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Carol Channing, Sid Caesar.

FOUR ON A GARDEN [Comedy/Crime/One-Acts/Marriage/Old Age/Romance/Sex] A/D: Abe Burrows; SC: a French play by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Gredy; S: Oliver Smith; C: William McHone; L: Martin Aronstein; P: David Merrick i/a/w Beresford Productions, Ltd., and Charles Lowe Productions; T: Broadhurst Theatre; 1/20/71-3/20/71 (57)

Sid Caesar, Carol Channing.
At a time when the preview period was much shorter than it later became, well over a month of them preceded the opening of this flailing attempt by Broadway veteran Abe Burrows to adapt a French hit to American characters. The original writers, who had better luck with the Burrows-adapted and–directed Cactus Flower, and Forty Carats, which Burrows staged in Jay Presson Allen’s version, were so dismayed by the distance traversed from their work that they asked to have their names removed from the credits. Comic actor-writing couple Renee Taylor and Joseph Bologna are said to have collaborated on the work with Burrows.

Four on a Garden was conceived as an intermissionless evening of four one-acts designed to furnish stars Sid Caesar and Carol Channing with a vehicle for their comedic talents. They appeared as different characters in each skit, as did most of the supporting cast, but the brownstone co-op apartment setting remained throughout.

Each one-acter deals with a pair of lovers, ranging from middle-aged to elderly. The first, “House of Dunkelmayer,” is about a delicatessen owner’s wife and her boyfriend. He returns to her arms from his refuge in Alaska, to which he fled after the pair murdered her husband. Now, the threat of a younger rival for her affections appears on the scene. Others in the sketch included George S. Irving as a TV repairman and future film star Tom[mmy] Lee Jones as a delivery man.

Sid Caesar, Carol Channing.
“Betty” has to do with a middle-aged man who meets the mother of his much younger fiancée (Jones), only to realize that she is an old flame and that he may be his future wife’s father.

Sid Caesar, Carol Channing, Tom Lee Jones.
In “Toreador” a house painter seduces a wealthy matron in the apartment of her young, abusive lover (Jones). And in “The Swingers” an aged couple meet at Roseland and come to the man’s apartment. However, their hopes of having sex get no further than a discussion of age’s debilitating effects.

Despite valiant comic efforts by the famously funny leads, the show was only intermittently amusing. Clive Barnes reported that the stars “do their . . . best to save the most destructible vehicle since the good ship Titanic.”

Thursday, June 25, 2020

181, FOUR FRIENDS. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Cast of Four Friends.
FOUR FRIENDS [Drama/Friendship/Homosexuality/Marriage] A: Larry Kramer; D: Alfred Gingold; S/L: Duane Mazey; C: Tom Pallon; P: Michael Harvey; T: Theatre de Lys (OB); 2/17/75 (1)

Playwright Larry Kramer was a respected screenwriter and had won a Ford Foundation prize for Four Friends work when it was done in workshop, but those credentials were no shield against the sharpened quills of the critics in the days before he became a leading advocate of gay rights. Some expert dialogue saved the play from being a complete artistic loss—it was, with one performance, a complete financial loss—but its quality lines were, said Clive Barnes, “rather like cloves being stuck into ham.” Otherwise, the play was “silly” to Christopher Sharp and “wrongheaded” to Douglas Watt.

It was about four men in their mid-30s, very close friends since their college days at Yale. Charlie (Robert Stattel) is a successful banker suffering from impotence and catatonia brought on by the discovery of his English wife’s (Sharon Loughlin) infidelity. Ben (John Colenback) is a successful ad executive, a homosexual in love with Mike (Brad Davis). Edward (Jeremiah Sullivan) is an unemployed fellow from a moneyed family who happens to be a sadomasochist. And Dick (Ronald Hale) is doing well as a psychologist, but is unhappily married for the second time.

The play describes the crumbling of the friendship among these Four Musketeers, as they call themselves, with subplots involving each of them. Four apartments are among the locales in which the action is set.

Dully directed and weakly acted—Barnes called the acting “atrocious”—Four Friends had barely any friends among the reviewers. Martin Gottfried, however, sensed in it “a balance between humor and seriousness, the nerve to be sincere, and, most of all, craftsmanship.” Still, he acknowledged, Kramer’s “soap-opera plotting” did it in.

180. 42 SECONDS FROM BROADWAY. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Regina Baff, Henry Winkler.
42 SECONDS FROM BROADWAY [Comedy/Homosexuality/Romance/Sex/Theatre] A: Louis Del Grande; D: Arthur Storch; S: William Pitkin; C: Glenda Miller; L: Roger Morgan; P: Arthur Cantor; T: Playhouse Theatre (OB); 3/11/73 (1)

A corny, tired comedy about stereotypical characters in a stereotypical situation. The year is 1957. An 18-year-old Hoboken, New Jersey, Italian boy named John (Henry Winkler) and a 20-year-old Brooklyn Jewish girl named Robin (Regina Baff), coworkers in a Western Union office and co-aspirants for theatrical careers, make believe they are siblings and take an apartment together, “42 seconds from Broadway.”

Both are virgins, but John fears he may be gay. Robin, lusting after him, is afraid she’s a nymphomaniac. Romance finally binds them together, but not before a series of indifferently amusing scenes involving the boy’s parents, a group therapy session, a screwball acting teacher, and so on.

Ethnic jokes, gay jokes, and psychoanalyst jokes, all bland, were sprinkled throughout. Clive Barnes thought it worse than poor TV fare, which it resembled. Richards Watts called it “dismal.” And Douglas Watt scorned it as “simple-minded” and “wholly synthetic.” Watt also picked out young Henry Winkler, not yet cast as Fonzie on TV's “Happy Days,” which would make him a household name, as “an adroit laugh-getter” with a resemblance to Jerry Lewis.\

42 Seconds from Broadway vanished so quickly it might almost have been called 42 Seconds on Off Broadway.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020


John E. Kellerd as Hamlet.
For this latest installment in my LEITER LOOKS BACK series, please click on THEATER PIZZAZZ. 

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

Sam Stoneburner, Alan Castner.

FOREPLAY [Drama/Homosexuality/Marriage/Nudity/Sex] A: Robert M. Lane; D: Nicholas Rock; S/L; Leo B. Meyer; P: Sweet Alice, Ltd.; T: Bijou Theatre; 12/11/70-1/10/71 (38)

After seven years of marriage, a man named Neil (Sam Stoneburner) realizes he’s gay, leaves his wife, and goes to New York to begin life as a practicing homosexual in a Central Part West apartment. 

Tara Tyson.
This play was much concerned with preaching the virtues of same-sex love, and aimed to convince those who had a problem like the hero’s to come out of their closets. Edith Oliver berated it as “shoddy stuff—badly written ad much given to moralizing, persuasion, and those awful, italicized star-spangled jokes.”

Foreplay was saved from being “the worst play of its genre,” wrote Mel Gussow, by the generally effective production values, but “the writing is ordinary, the humor forced, the staging at times mechanical.” Like other such works, it had an obligatory nude scene, although it was played in dim light. A story that went around at the time was that a certain actor had turned down the role of Neil because of the nude scene.

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

Showgirls in "Loveland" number.
FOLLIES [Musical/Marriage/Period/Show Business] B: James Goldman; M/LY: Stephen Sondheim; D: Harold Prince, Michael Bennett; CH: Michael Bennett; S: Boris Aronson; C: Florence Klotz; L: Tharon Musser; P: Harold Prince i/a/w Ruth Mitchell; T: Winter Garden Theatre; 4/4/71-7/1/72 (521)

Sheila Smith, Ethel Barrymore Colt, Alexis Smith, Dorothy Collins, Helen Blount, Yvonne DeCarlo.
Put together by the leading musical theatre production team of the decade, Follies—now a modern classic—was widely considered a revolutionary step forward for a Broadway musical. Despite a numerically healthy run, it nonetheless lost its $800,000 investment, made even worse by the failure of its projected road tour to be realized. 

Set within the crumbling walls of a soon-to-be-torn-down Broadway theatre, the story brings together a group of old-time Follies showgirls  and their husbands for a nostalgic reunion prior to the swinging of the wrecker’s ball. The reference is to the old-time Ziegfeld Follies extravaganzas but the impresario here is named Dmitri Weissmann (Arnold Moss).

The intermissionless show uses a Proustian device of mingling past and present times so that the showgirls are viewed as they are and as they were, their younger selves portrayed, ghost-like, in black and white, by younger actresses. The main action deals with the marital difficulties two couples—Sally and Buddy Plummer (Dorothy Collins and Gene Nelson) and Phyllis and Ben Stone (Alexis Smith and John McMartin)—have been facing, their hopes that the reunion with old loves (Sally had once loved Ben) and memories will somehow give their unhappy lives a new direction, and their final determination to go on staunchly facing life with their partners. Marti Rolph and Harvey Evans played the younger Sally and Buddy, while Young Phyllis and Young Ben were handled by Virginia Sandifur and Kurt Peterson.

Kurt Peterson, Virginia Sandifur, Harvey Evans, Marti Rolph.
To Henry Hewes the result was not a simple nostalgic look backwards, but a presentation of “the ghosts of our past as painful exhumations.” The show received wildly varying reviews, some finding it brilliant and moving, others sentimental and trite. The main target of criticism was the book, but even the negative reviews tended to laud the music, lyrics, set, and costumes. Few failed to be impressed by the concept, its imaginative execution, and the excellent cast of middle-ages female stars whose waning beauty added a special melancholy to the event.

Ursula Maschmeyer, Justine Johnston, John Grigas.
Alexis Smith was singled out for her radiant performance in a large company that included Graciela Daniele, Fifi D’Orsay, Yvonne De Carlo, Ethel Shutta (once actually a Ziegfeld girl), Justine Johnston, Ethel Barrymore Colt, and Mary McCarty. Stephen Sondheim’s score was seen as a marvelous pastiche of old-time Broadway styles. Among its most memorable numbers, which have grown richer with the years, are “I’m Still Here,” “Could I Leave You,” and “Losing My Mind.” Jack Kroll thought Sondheim’s creations “transcend the pitfalls to burst out in a cornucopia of tunes and lyrics that give stinging detail, with and poignance to all of the theme’s implications.”

Gene Nelson.
Walter Kerr was the principal objector, finding Follies “tedious,” evincing “ingenuity without inspiration,” and having a “trivial” libretto. Since the New York Times’s other reviewer at the time, Clive Barnes, also had reservations, Martin Gottfried published in that paper a spirited defense in which he declared Follies a “standard” for the American musical theatre to emulate: “Follies is a concept musical, a show whose music, lyrics, dance, stage movement, and dialogue are woven through each other in the creation of a tapestry-like theme (rather than in support of a plot).”

John McMartin (top hat and tails) and company
The show was buried in awards and nominations, winning Best Musical recognition from the New York Drama Critics Circle, Outstanding Production from the Outer Critics Circle, a Best Book Tony nomination for Goldman, a Best Score Tony win for Sondheim, a Drama Desk Award for Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics, a Tony nomination for Best Supporting Actor, musical, for Gene Nelson, a Tony win for Alexis Smith as Best Actress, Musical, a shared Drama Desk Award and Tony for Hal Prince and Michael Bennett for direction, a Tony for Bennett’s choreography, a Tony and a Drama Desk Award for Boris Aronson’s scenic designs, a Drama Desk Award for Florence Klotz’s costumes, and a slew of Variety Poll selections, among others.

Follies has received multiple revivals, regionally, internationally, and on Broadway, the principal examples of the latter being in 2001 and 2011.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

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

David Haughton, Lindsay Kemp. 

FLOWERS [Drama/British/Homosexuality/Nudity/Prison/Sex/Transvestism] A: CN: Lindsay Kemp; SC: Jean Genet’s novel, Notre Dame des Fleurs; D/DS: Lindsay Kemp; L: Lindsay Kemp, John Spradbery; P: Herman and Diana Shumlin and Merrold Suhl i/a/w Larry Parnes; T: Biltmore Theatre; 10/7/74-10/26/74 (24)

Center: Lindsay Kemp.
"[N]either dance, mime or drag show but a little of all three,” as Clive Barnes described it, this frankly gay British import was concocted by Scottish pantomime artist Lindsay Kemp, who starred in, wrote, directed, and designed it. Basing his ideas on a novel by French writer Jean Genet, he included, to a taped musical background, various scenes of candidly depicted, but simulated, sexual behavior, from masturbation to sodomy to transvestism.

Lindsay Kemp.
Jean Cocteau and Buster Keaton were other acknowledged influences, but some critics detected touches of many other sources as well. Since Barnes felt these sources were not properly assimilated, he wrote, “Mr. Kemp too often debases his material into a kind of self-indulgent parody.”

Set in a prison, graveyard, Montmartre café, garret, and theatre, Flowers possessed little by way of a plot. It was more concerned with finding theatrical means by which to express the fantastical sadomasochistic world of its bizarre characters. Blood was a central image in much of the activity, and the cast was often seen in the nude.

Lindsay Kemp and company.
Despite some effective atmospherics, the work was too drag queen and camp-oriented for most Broadway tastes, although Brendan Gill found much of it funny and moving, calling the white-faced cast “a pleasure to watch.” A more widespread opinion, expressed by John Beaufort, held it to be “A lewd and disgusting grotesquerie [that] mimes human degradation.”

Monday, June 22, 2020

175. F.O.B. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Jeff Weiss, William Finley.
F.O.B. [Drama/Literature] A: Jeff Weiss; D: Gaby Rodgers; S: Lewis Rosen; P: Placato Enterprises; T: Mercer-Brecht Theatre (OB); 11/24/72-11/26/72 (3)

Jeff Weiss, a respected “underground” playwright-actor in the Off-Off Broadway world starred here in his own play under commercial auspices. The play was received with strong disapproval by the establishment critics, who saw in it nothing but a virtually nonstop, self-indulgent, in-joking monologue in which Weiss confessed to the audience, “revealing his anxieties, frustrations and animosities,” according to Mel Gussow.

Much of F.O.B. (not to be confused with David Henry Hwang’s 1980 FOB) was directed at Weiss’s Off-Off origins. Set in the future of 1994, it concerned an East Village writer, Warren Penn Woods (Weiss), who is visited by a dubious encyclopedia salesman (William Finley).

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

Ellen Barber.
Note: This entry is out of alphabetical order.

FAME [Comedy-Drama/Biographical/Films/Hollywood] A/D: Anthony J. Ingrassia; S: Douglas W. Schmidt; C: Jeffrey B. Moss; L: Martin Aronstein; P: James J.C. Andrews and Tony Zanetta for Mainman; T: John Golden Theatre; 11/18/74 (1)

Ellen Barber did a good job in the leading role of this à clef play based on the life of movie star Marilyn Monroe. The piece itself was laughed off the stage, though, for its sheer ineptitude. Clive Barnes blasted it as “the worst play of the season,” saying that the intermission was the evening’s most interesting part. Martin Gottfried called it “an amateur night version of a Hollywood novel.” Not that it hadn’t been vetted, since it originated in an Off-Off Broadway production.

In Fame, the Monroe character is called Diane Cook, her athlete husband is a boxer instead of a baseball player, and her writer husband is a novelist, not a playwright. These and all the rest of the 33 clichéd characters (played by eight actors) were involved in a multi-scened biography that never seemed sure of how much it meant to take its subject seriously or to camp it up for laughs.

It began with a revelation of the star as a corpse surrounded by the news media, then showed her rising and reenacting her life in flashback, and ended with her suicide by a sleeping pill overdose. The show itself could not outlive its opening night.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

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

John Heard, Guy Boyd, Tom Lee Jones, Kathryn Grody, Lindsay Crouse.

FISHING [Comedy-Drama/Drugs/Friendship/Marriage/Rural/Suicide] A: Michael Weller; D: Peter Gill; S/C: Pat Woodbridge; L: Ian Calderon; P: New York Shakespeare Festival; T: Public Theater/Newman Theater (OB); 2/1/75-3/9/75 (44)
John Heard, Tom Lee Jones.
Michael Weller’s first play after his hit Moonchildren met with something less than the critical acclaim of its predecessor. One reason was that its characters seemed too much like those of the earlier play, albeit about eight years older.

Fishing takes place in a rustic Oregon cabin where the gruff bill (Tom[my] Lee Jones) and Shelly (Lindsay Crouse) live with their wealthy, suicidal friend Robbie (Guy Boyd), who loves Shelly. The men dream of buying a boat and going into business as deep-sea fishermen. A married couple, Mary-Ellen (Kathryn Grody) and Dane (John Heard), an architect, arrives to spend the weekend. The five friends and former roommates pass the time by taking peyote and getting involved in far-out conversations and weird carryings-on.

Ultimately, the weekend concludes, the feckless Robbie (who has tried to kill himself) remains with Bill and Shelly and gives Bill money for his boat—though he wishes he could move on and make something of his life—and Mary-Ellen and Dana depart.

The thinly plotted work was concerned more than with its story, being focused on its characters and their meandering search for life’s meaning. It succeeded, for the most part, in presenting each individual with insight and humanity. Clive Barnes said, “You get to know the people and they are interesting.” Weller’s gift for dialogue rarely failed him, nor did his ability to write laugh-getting lines.

The blend of pathos and humor spurred John Simon to call Fishing “a play of texture,” with an accurate view of the lives it pictured, but Simon was a bit put off by an overly clever streak he spotted in the language. Edith Oliver thought the characters convincing, but wished she could find their behavior “more interesting . . . and . . . more contagious.” Comparing the work with Moonchildren, Walter Kerr said, “the little jokes are littler now, the antic urge to con the world gone flat.”

British director Peter Gill’s first New York assignment was well handled, and each actor (in a cast that also included Edward Seamon and Raymond J. Barry) received respectable notices.


Frances Foster, Ethel Ayler, Moses Gunn.

THE FIRST BREEZE OF SUMMER [Drama/Family/Homosexuality/Race] A: Leslie Lee; D: Douglas Turner Ward; S: Edward Burbridge; C: Mary Mease Warren; L: Sandra L. Ross; P: Negro Ensemble Company; T: St. Marks Playhouse (OB); 3/2/75-4/27/75 (70); Palace Theatre; 6/10/75-7/20/75 (48)

A “human and touching” (John Simon) domestic drama about a family of middle-class blacks living in a Northern city. Excellently written and produced, it was considered one of the finest black plays of the decade. It moved from a Negro Ensemble Company Off-Broadway staging to Broadway, where, however, it failed to catch on.

The play, which Clive Barnes called “one of the most mature and rewarding works the NEC has given us,” was a two-leveled work. One level presented the story of a contemporary family: Milton (Moses Gunn), the father, is fairly successful as a plasterer, although he charges his white customers too little for fear of losing their business. His older son, Nate (Charles Brown), has dropped out of school to work for him, and his younger son, Lou (Reyno), has ambitions of becoming a doctor or scientist. This troubled son, ashamed of his color, is also aware of being a latent homosexual.

Grammer (Frances Foster) is Milton’s aged mother, a beloved matriarch, spending the hot June weekend at her son’s home. She and Lou have an extremely close relationship, the boy treating his grandma with great love.

On the second level, the play flashes back into the life of Grammer, known in these scenes as Lucretia (Janet League), intertwining the stories of three lovers (two black and one white) by whom she had children in her younger days—with the material about Milton, Lou, and Nate. The play binds the two levels together by concentrating on the relationship between Lou and Grammer and showing how their love helps the young man resolve his personal difficulties.

A work of engrossing honesty, The First Breeze of Summer was very strong in its depiction of both present and past characters, all of whom become people about whom one could care. Old fashioned in technique and values, it was capable of bringing tears to critically dry eyes. It was not particularly dramatic, noted Douglas Watt, but had an effective way with dialogue and situations. Despite being “overlong” and “confusing” to Martin Gottfried, it nevertheless revealed an “obvious writing talent.” Melodrama crept in too often, believed several reviewers, but some of its scenes, according to Edwin Wilson, “are as powerful as any now on view in New York.”

Structural problems in relating the play’s two levels to each other disturbed some viewers. And an overabundance of plot and thematic material also was problematic. With splendid performances by Frances Foster, Janet League, Moses Gunn, and Reyno, among others, though, and insightful direction by Douglas Turner Ward, The First Breeze of Summer represented a major black offering of the era.

The play won an OBIE as Best Play, nabbed a Tony nomination in the same area, and brought OBIES to Moses Gunn and Reyno, the latter also earning the Clarence Derwent Award. Leslie Lee, in addition, was given the John Gassner Medallion for Playwriting.


Gene Rupert, Barbara Bel Geddes.
 FINISHING TOUCHES [Comedy/Family/Marriage/Sex] A: Jean Kerr; D: Joseph Anthony; S/L: Ben Edwards; C: Jane Greenwood; P: Robert Whitehead and Roger L. Stevens; T: Plymouth Theatre; 2/8/73-7/1/73 (164)

Scott Firestone, Barbara Bel Geddes, Oliver Conant, Robert Lansing.
A light comic treatment of the serious domestic problem of midlife sexual crisis in the married lives of an apparently well-matched pair, Finishing Touches skirted the edges of its subject matter, mining it for laughs, and handled its characters and plot predictably and with little depth. Yet Jean Kerr’s basic sincerity, her polished dialogue, and clever wisecracks kept the action moving, provided excellent material for a fine cast to work with, and her play was given a well-directed and designed production in the best Broadway tradition.

Cast of Finishing Touches.
Professor Jeff Cooper (Robert Lansing) and his wife, Katy (Barbara Bel Geddes), a couple in their early 40s comfortably ensconced in a large house in a New England college town, have been married for over 20 years. They have three sons, one of whom, Steve (James Woods), arrives with his roommate, the young actress, Felicia Andrayson (Pamela Bellwood). Jeff is anxiously awaiting news as to whether he’s been promoted to full professor.

Barbara Bel Geddes, Robert Lansing.
Meanwhile, he reveals that he has a crush on a pretty student, a disclosure that soon has Katy teetering on the brink of an affair with an affectionate next-door neighbor, Fred Whitten (Gene Rupert). Neither the professor nor his wife consummate their yearnings, the former even turning down a tryst with his son’s girlfriend, to whom he’d turned his attention, and husband and wife return to each other’s arms. The promotion, of course, now is safely in his hands.

Pamela Bellwood, Barbara Bel Geddes, James Woods, Denise Galik. 
Jean Kerr’s warm and honest humor and her literate, amusing characters brightened the otherwise fragile, though well-made, sitcom plot. The play was old fashioned in manner, and its preference for the established values. “Jean Kerr . . . ,” wrote Martin Gottfried, “has confronted the modern sexual revolution and decided that it never happened.” TV sitcoms had usurped whatever originality was in the form, and Kerr’s play did little to avoid being labeled a superior example of the genre. “It amuses, it massages, it conforms and it confirms,” said Clive Barnes.

Robert Lansing, Pamela Bellwood.
One or two critics wrote predominantly negative reviews, but most treated the play—by the wife of one their most respected colleagues, Walter Kerr—as the harmless, time-passing exercise it was. Bel Geddes’s performance as the quintessential Kerr heroine—enchanted most viewers, but a few found her manner and tiresome. The remaining performances were considered anywhere from delightful to competent.