Friday, July 31, 2020


William Kelsey, Mary McGregor, Gwen Mitchell, John Swearingen.

THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION [Comedy/Death/Fantasy/Marriage/Religion/Sex] A: W. Randolph Galvin; D: William E. Kinzer; S: William  E. Kinzer and W. Randolph Galvin; C: Mary Lou Harvey; L: Lee Goldman; P: W. Randolph Galvin; T: Cherry Lane Theatre (OB); 10/27/70 (1)

Frank Borgman.
As the ubiquitous name in the credits suggests, this one-performance disaster was largely the work of one man. Mel Gussow bellowed, “It is a work that does not even merit the title vanity production. Whose vanity does it assuage?” This critic considered the backstage life, glimpsed through gaps in the amateurish scenery, more interesting than what was transpiring in the play. “Misconception, yes,” commented Jerry Tallmer, “Immaculate, not quite.”

At the start, an old millionaire (Frank Borgman) converses with God—a Celestial Memory Bank—and asks for a review of his past deeds to see if he deserves his fate after he dies. It turns out he had planned to leave his man-hating daughter (Mary McGregor) and her husband (John Swearingen) six million dollars, but the will revealed that they could collect only if they had a baby. Since they dislike each other too intensely to have sex, it is suggested by the devious Dr. Zaharako (William Kelsey) that they talk a black servant (Gwenn Mitchell) into being artificially inseminated so she can bear the child for them. The doctor actually stands to gain the estate himself for his research institute if no child is forthcoming. And so on . . . 

253. THE ICEMAN COMETH. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

James Earl Jones,, Patrick Hines.

THE ICEMAN COMETH [Dramatic Revival] A: Eugene O’Neill; D: Theodore Mann; S: Clarke Dunham; C: Carrie F. Robbins; L: Jules Fisher; P: Circle in the Square; T: Circle in the Square Joseph E. Levine Theatre; 12/13/73-2/24/74 (85)

This was the second major revival of O’Neill’s great 1946 barroom drama—the first (also produced by the Circle in the Square) starred Jason Robards, Jr., in 1956—about the value of pipe dreams versus the harshness of reality. Unlike the earlier revival, memorably directed by Jose Quintero, the present one had superb design elements, but only intermittently distinctive direction, with a hodgepodge company of name actors that nonetheless lacked the necessary ensemble quality. Even the star presence of the red-hot James Earl Jones failed to find wide approval.

James Earl Jones.
Walter Kerr found the work in serious need of cutting, especially because the prolix, four-and-a-half hour play tended to dissipate the impact of the central character, Hickey (Jones), when he was offstage. John Simon thought the work miscast and poorly acted, Edwin Wilson felt the direction was “mechanical,” and Martin Gottfried griped about the lack of coordination among the disparate elements. One of the few who thought the show worked was Douglas Watt, who called it “an absorbing revival of an enthralling play.”

James Earl Jones, Walter McGinn.
Watt was especially strong in his defense of Jones’s Hickey, which he called a “superb” performance of one of modern drama’s most demanding roles. This was Jones’s “most striking performance to date,” he crowed. Wilson felt similarly, and was astonished at how easily the black actor stepped into a role written for a white one, although this was something Jones already had done on a number of significant occasions. “Mr. Jones is so magnetic and dynamic a performer that he totally transcends any question of color.” Unfortunately, the majority of reviewers felt otherwise. T.E. Kalem thought Jones’s Hickey “overwrought, a manic-morose-evangelist given to bouts of hysterical joviality.” Jack Kroll said “he jackhammers the role into a shrapnel of moments and mannerisms.”

Michael Higgins stood apart from the rest of the company for his universally praised portrayal of Larry. On stage with him were respected actors such as Walter McGinn, Patrick Hines, Joseph Ragno, David Margulies, Stefan Gierasch, Arthur French, Stephen McHattie, Jack Gwillim, George Ebeling, Tom Aldredge, Rex Everhart, and Lois Smith (as Cora).

Carrie F. Robbins walked off with a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Costume Designer.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

252. I LOVE THEE FREELY. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Janet Kapral, Gregory Abels.
I LOVE THEE FREELY [Drama/Biographical/Literature/Romance/Two Characters] A: Benjamin Bernard Zavin; SC: works of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning; D: Moni Yakim; S/C: Don Jensen; L: Ian Calderon; P: The Candlelight Company; T: Astor Place Theatre (OB); 9/17/73-10/7/73 (23)

A documentary dramatization of the famed love affair of 19th-century British poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett, as expressed through a performance of their love letters. Clive Barnes summed it up as “A quiet and unsurprising evening, full of good taste, good sense, but lacking in dramatic substance.”

The acting—by Gregory Abels and Janet Kapral—was acceptable, the sets attractive, and the characters “interesting.” However, the effect, for Barnes, was “predictable” and with “more charm than depth.” Richard Watts felt it was “entirely without dramatic interest and suspense,” and Dick Brukenfeld wrote that it was “the kind of experience that drives people away from theatre.”

Several critics noted that they would much have preferred to see the established theatrical treatment of the love affair, the once popular, 1930 period drama The Barretts of Wimpole Street by Rudolf Bessier. In that somewhat musty drama they at least could have appreciated the character of the poetess’s tyrannical father, who is completely absent from the letters.


Don Bradford, Michael Laibson, Tom Hastings, Gail Johnston.

I’LL DIE IF I CAN’T LIVE FOREVER [Musical Revue/Show Business] B: Karen Johnson (ADD. B: William Brooke); M/LY: Joyce Stoner (ADD. M: William Boswell); CH: Joyce Stoner; DS: Irving Milton Duke; P: Patrick Stoner; T: The Improvisation (OB); 10/31/74-2/2/75 (81)

Several months before A Chorus Line knocked the socks off Broadway with its concept of a group of dancers auditioning for a show, I’ll Die If I Can’t Live Forever, an intimate revue, used a somewhat similar idea to excellent effect. On a bare stage, backed only by a piano for accompaniment, six young hopefuls were shown trying out for a revue. The highly praised result was done in a cabaret environment, where drinks were served during the performance.

Act one was basically a topical revue touching on New York life, with sideswipes at politics, perverts, football, homosexuality, and inflation. All six performers—Gail Johnston, Maureen Maloney, Nancy Reddon, Don Bradford, Tam Hastings, Michael David Laibson, and Mark T. Long—are cast, and the second act presents the show for which they’ve been auditioning.

All the critics praised the concept, music, lyrics, and performers. “Fresh as a daisy, sharp as a tack and as funny as it is fast, this 90-minute show is the best mini-musical in town,” glowed Howard Thompson

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

250. I AM A WOMAN. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Viveca Lindfors.
I AM A WOMAN [Dramatic Anthology/Solo/Women] AD: Viveca Lindfors and Paul Austin; D: Paul Austin; C: Joe Eula; L: Beverly Emmons; M: David Horowitz; P: Rita Fredricks-An Actor Works-Image Theatre Production; T: Theatre in Space (OB); 4/2/74-4/28/74 (32)

A far-ranging assortment of writings about women, performed by Swedish actress Viveca Lindfors, including the work of Lillian Hellman, Bertolt Brecht, Eve Merriam, D.H. Lawrence, George Bernard Shaw, Luigi Pirandello, Anne Sexton, Shakespeare, Sally Kempton, Colette, Jean Giraudoux, Nora Sayre, Henrik Ibsen, Betty Friedan, Anais Nin, and many others—36 pieces in all. The beautiful, versatile star moved effectively through the diverse offerings, making dynamic transitions, being at one moment comic, at the next tragic. She left her audience with the shimmering impression of an unforgettable experience.

After seeing the show in an Off-Off Broadway version before it returned under an Off-Broadway contract, Howard Thompson wrote: “As a production it works nicely, unobtrusively. So does Miss Lindfors’s use of several wigs, a scarf, two capes, a formidable hat and a cluster of metal sculptures. . . . This is also a body-ballet performance, with the actress gracefully padding the stage.” The sculptures were by Susanne Benton and the choreographic consultant was Gui Andrisano.

There were warm notices of the star’s talents, her vocal range, and her emotional depths, but there also was a feeling that the show was bloated and needed to be pared down to fewer selections.

249. HURRY, HARRY. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Donna Liggitt Forbes.
HURRY, HARRY [Musical/Youth] B: Jeremiah Morris, Lee Kalcheim, and Susan Perkis; M: Bill Wedeen; LY: David Finkle; D: Jeremiah Morris; CH: Gerald Teijelo; S: Fred Voelpel; C: Sara Brook; L: Martin Aronstein; P: Peter Grad; T: Ritz Theatre; 10/12/72-10/13/72 (2)
Mary Bracken Phillips.
A poorly conceived, intimate musical with a fable-like story about one Harrison Fairchild IV (Samuel D. Ratcliffe), a wealthy young man with an identity problem who roams all over the world in search of happiness. He tries various psychiatric and vocational solutions (which become the show’s satirical targets), only to find what he was looking for—guess where?—right in his own backyard.

Phil Leeds (left), Samuel D. Ratcliffe (center)
Despite some clever and imaginative touches, the show lacked sufficient humor, effective music, creative choreography, and a viable book, all of which made it “an idiotic bore,” as Douglas Watt concluded.

Unless I'm mistaken, lyricist David Finkle is now the widely-read theatre critic of that name. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

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

Robert Glaudini, Kathleen Cramer, Michael Hadge, (rear) Douglass Watson.

THE HUNTER [Drama/Friendship/Military/Period/Sex/War] A: Murray Mednick; D: Kent Paul; S: Ralph Funicello; C: Theoni V. Aldredge; L: Spencer Mosse; M: Peter Link; P: New York Shakespeare Festival; T: Public Theater Annex (OB); 5/23/72-7/16/72 (64)

A dull, heavily symbolistic, antiwar mood drama set in a deserted graveyard during the Civil War. Two bedraggled soldiers, Lee and Harry (Michael Hadge and Robert Glaudini); Marianne (Kathleen Cramer), a girl clad in fringed buckskin (Kathleen Cramer); and a red-jacketed old hunter (Douglass Watson)—listed simply as Hunter—make up the list of characters.

The hunter is possibly a soldier, too, but this is vague. A blank tombstone, a tree, and two cots are the scenic essentials. The talky hunter comes across the soldiers on their cots and keeps them covered with his rifle until they manage to ambush him and nail him to the tree. The girl arrives, talks about her dream of a war many years in the future, and is raped by one of the soldiers as the hunter writhes sensually and the other man pounds a watermelon with his fist. After the hunter dies, he is kicked offstage. The girl departs and the soldiers speak acrimoniously to one another. The girl returns as they are on the point of mutual murder, but she is dressed as a World War I nurse. A projection of thousands of crosses flashes on a screen.

John Simon interpreted the play to mean that possessive rivalry, even among friends, can lead to conflict, particularly when a woman is involved. Also, that man’s interminable war-making has created a world where past, present, and future combat are essentially the same, thereby transforming the planet into a “thinly-veiled graveyard,” and that hunting is he peacetime equivalent of battle. But he argued that playwright Murray Mednick had tossed his symbolism into an overcooked stew in which the characters emerge without the flavor of life, the dialogue lacks seasoning, and the drama is stale.

Edith Oliver sided with Simon, finding “the writing so opaque and of such poor quality that one never feels the mystery is worth cracking.” Critics like Clive Barnes and Martin Gottfried were confused but appreciated Mednick’s effort nonetheless.

Monday, July 27, 2020

247. "HUGHIE" and "DUET." From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Peter Maloney, Ben Gazzara.

HUGHIE and DUET [Dramatic Revivals] D: Martin Fried; S: Kert Lundell; C: Ruth Morley; L: Marc B. Weiss; P: Jay Julien i/a/w Sidney Eden; T: John Golden Theatre; 2/11/75-3/8/75 (31)
“Hughie” A: Eugene O’Neill; “Duet” A: David Scott Milton

A pair of one-acts, each set in a seedy Times Square hotel lobby, giving Ben Gazzara a chance to play two markedly different roles. Neither play appealed widely, but Gazzara’s star turn was of interest. This was a limited run, touring production.

“Hughie,” a 1942 O’Neill play, was first staged in Sweden in 1958, starring Bengt Eklund. In 1963, it was given its English-language premiere at the Royal Theatre, Bath, in England, with American star Burgess Meredith. New York first saw it in 1964, with Jason Robards, Jr., in a Tony-nominated performance.

Gazzara played the down-and-out gambler Erie Smith, who, like Hickey in The Iceman Cometh, pours out his special brand of pipe-dream chatter to the receptive ears of a nearly silent night clerk (Peter Maloney). John Simon said Gazzara merely skimmed the surface of the character, but others tended to appreciate his work. One was Clive Barnes, who said, “Mr. Gazzara, with his indelible grin, sadly creased face, and air of punchdrunk confidence . . . is a joy to watch. He is playing a real man who has elected to make a caricature of himself." Martin Gottfried went so far as to call him “flawless.”

Ben Gazzara.
Several thought the play failed because it did not include O’Neill’s instructions to use a special sound track and background film of New York.

David Scott Milton’s “Duet,” a black farce originally done Off Broadway at the American Place Theatre in 1970, gave the actor a chance for some flashy and funny histrionics as a schizophrenic night clerk suffering from the fear that he’s a target of a Russian plot to have the Mafia kill him.


Faire Binney.
For June 27, the next installment in my ON THIS DAY IN NEW YORK THEATER series, please click on THEATER LIFE.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

246. HOW TO GET RID OF IT. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Muriel Costa-Greenspon, Matt Conley, Joe Masiell.

HOW TO GET RID OF IT [Musical/Fantasy/Marriage] B/LY/D: Eric Blau; M: Mort Shuman; SC: Eugene Ionesco’s play Amadée, or How to Get Rid of It; S/C: Don Jensen; L: Ian Calderon; P: 3W Productions, Inc.; T: Astor Place Theatre (OB); 11/17/74-11/24/74 (9)

The creators of this show had been tremendously successful with their revue, Jacques Brel is Alive and Well . . . , but came a cropper with this clumsy, nine-performance attempt to turn Ionesco’s Amadée into a musical. The original is a classic absurdist comedy about the decay at the heart of a failed marriage symbolized by an ever-growing corpse in a back room.

The husband, Amadée Buccinioni (Matt Conley), is a dried-up playwright, the wife, Madeleine (Muriel Costa-Greenspon), works at a switchboard in their home. Mushrooms are sprouting in the living room. The corpse is encroaching on their space. The couple get more and more on one another’s nerves. While trying to get rid of the corpse, Amadée meets several characters, including an American soldier (Joe Masiell), and flies up into the air when the police come after him. His wife begs him to come down but he floats away.

The musical followed the original’s plot, but trivialized it by discarding its fragile tone for a more uncouth and earthy one, with heavy-handed gags and characterizations. Clive Barnes, who called the show “a travesty” in which Ionesco has been "raped,” felt the play simply may have been impossible to effectively musicalize. He acknowledged the “good score” and noted the influence of Brel and Kurt Weill on the music, but these could not compensate for the otherwise muddled production.

Among major changes were the transfer of the locale from Paris to Greenwich Village and the soldier’s character from a Paris-based American to a Vietnam vet. Joe Masiell was excellent in the role.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

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

Helen Gallagher, Brad Sullivan.

HOTHOUSE [Drama/Alcoholism/Family/Marriage/Women] A: Megan Terry; D: Rae Allen; S: Lawrence King; C: Vernon Yates; L: William Mintzer; P: Chelsea Theatre Center of Brooklyn; T: Chelsea Theatre, Brooklyn Academy of Music (OB); 10/15/74-11/10/74 (32)

Avant-garde feminist playwright Megan Terry offered this surprisingly traditional realistic work about a family living in a fishing village cottage not far from Seattle. The focus is on three bawdy, hard-drinking women—a grandmother named Ma Sweetlove (Dorothy Chace), a mother named Roz (Helen Gallagher), and a teenage daughter named Judy (Kathleen Tolan). As Michael Feingold’s review implied, this trio offers a female version of the machismo behavior of conventional working-class men.

Roz is a former singer whose marriage to Jack (Brad Sullivan) is crumbling and whose daughter is involved with a clean-cut boy named David (Michael Cornelison). Roz and Ma aren’t happy about the relationship, and interfere in it. Jack wants Judy to stay with him on his boat, out of range from Roz’s influence. Roz has a lover, Andy (R.A. Dow). Jack has been carrying on with Roz’s friend Doll (Carol Morley). All ends ambiguously with the girl neither staying with her father nor marrying David.

Feingold said this conclusion “dramatizes neatly the position of women in a man’s world.” Terry’s play allows the women to end up with each other in a way that doesn’t involve their having to compromise themselves with the men in their lives. Feingold, who took much interest in the play, thought its major defect was the depiction of David, as if Terry had not been able to give the “opposition party” of males “a fair shake.” Otherwise, he thought it a “wise and painstaking production,” with a “mostly excellent” cast who all “sound like real people.” He called the play “an American Bernarda Alba, pulsating with lowlife and desire.” Clive Barnes’s diametrically opposed view described Hothouse, despite its good writing, as “cheap and obvious—it is a cliché set to the music of grimy and sudsy soap opera.” He liked Rae Allen’s “lively” direction, but called the acting “as heavy handed as the play.”


Lyn Gerb, Gene West.

HOTEL FOR CRIMINALS [Musical/Crime/France/Period] B/LY/D/S/L: Richard Foreman; M: Stanley Silverman; C: Whitney Blausen; P: Lyn Austin, Mary Silverman, and Charles Hollerith in the Music-Theatre Performing Group Production; T: Exchange Theatre (OB); 12/10/74-1/12/75 (15)

One of the few commercially produced works of experimental writer-designer-director Richard Foreman, this offbeat diversion parodied the silent movie melodramas of French filmmaker Louis Feuillade, whose weekly series in the 1900s followed the devilish adventures of the arch villain Fantomas (Paul Ukena) amid a Parisian underworld populated by vampires. These creatures of stealth are the constant concern of the ever-vigilant heroic detective, Judex (Ken Bell).

Using a predominantly black and white visual scheme, Foreman and costume designer Whitney Blausen evoked a nostalgic picture of 1902 Paris where anachronistic silver Rolls Royces tooled about, and where dire deeds done by viperish villains to helpless heroes and heroines constituted the action.

Forman’s theatricalist hijinks, which employed dance-like choreographic attitudes and tableaux, and Stanley Silverman’s widely eclectic score, were the chief attractions in this obscurely plotted work. As often in Foreman’s oeuvre, the effect was frequently “style over substance,” in Clive Barnes’s words. This critic found the surrealistic goings on “not nearly so engaging” as the earlier Foreman-Silverman collaboration, Dr. Selavy’s Magic Theatre, but Edith Oliver was charmed by “this ravishing little work.” Barnes thought the music, which purposely reflected many composers’ styles, was “too much,” but Oliver called the tunes “enchanting.”

Friday, July 24, 2020


For the next installment of my series, LEITER LOOKS BACK, surveying five revivals of 1921-122, please click on THEATER PIZZAZZ.

239. THE HOT L BALTIMORE. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Mari Gorman, Antony Tenuta, Zane Lasky, Jonathan Hogan, Trish Hawkins, Rob Thirkield, Helen Stenborg.
THE HOT L BALTIMORE [Comedy-Drama/Hotel/Prostitution] A: Lanford Wilson; D: Marshall W. Mason; S: Ronald Radice; C: Dina Costa; P: Kermit Bloomgarden and Roger Ailes in the Circle in the Square Production; T: Circle in the Square (OB); 3/22/73-1/4/76 (1,166)

Zane Lasky, Mari Gorman.
The then four-year-old Circle Theatre Company (later called the Circle Repertory Company), which produced the original version of the play, soon became one of New York’s finest Off-Broadway resident companies. Lanford Wilson continued to provide them with his finest new plays, several of them moving to respected Broadway productions. The present work had begun life Off-Off Broadway in the Circle’s tiny uptown space, but was soon transferred to a commercial run at the old, downtown Circle in the Square, on Bleecker Street, where it became one of Off Broadway’s greatest successes. Later, it became the basis for a short-lived though critically valued TV show.

Trish Hawkins, Judd Hirsch.
The Hot L Baltimore takes place on Memorial Day in a seedy, once-respectable Baltimore hotel. The “E” in the word “HOTEL” in its electric sign has gone blank, providing the play with its unusual title. There is not much plot, just the closely observed activities and behavior of the transients and permanent residents of this faded edifice, now slated for the wrecker’s ball. On view in the shabby lobby are the grumpy young night clerk, Bill (Judd Hirsch), several warmhearted hookers (Trish Hawkins, Conchatta Ferrell, Stephanie Gordon), a grouchy old man (Rob Thirkield), a dreamy old spinster (Helen Stenborg), a boyish, tough, but vulnerable young woman (Mari Gorman), her high-strung younger brother (Zane Lasky), a youth searching for a vanished grandfather (Jonathan Hogan), and several others, suitably eccentric.

Trish Hawkins, Conchatta Ferrell, Stephanie Gordon.
Sentimental, nostalgic for a vision of an America that one hopes may once have been, these characters pass before our eyes with a blend of humor, cynicism, and love that transforms them into a realistic but poetic cross-section of a specific American milieu.

The ensemble production was, for most, a significant contribution that proved the value of having a resident playwright create roles for actors with whom they are closely familiar. The detailed and telling realism of Marshall W. Mason’s staging—Mason directed most of Wilson’s new plays—was perfectly suited both to the play and to the talents of the actors. Hirsch, Ferrell, Hogan, Hawkins, and, especially, Gorman, may have been singled out by the critics, but the company as a whole was considered superlative by nearly everyone.

The realism of The Hot L Baltimore, its humanity, sensitivity, comedy, and emotionality, were potent factors in its long-run success. Some objected that it was too long and tended to ramble, some thought its sentimentality overdone, and some declared Wilson’s focus diffuse. But the consensus, as expressed by Harold Clurman, was that “Wilson’s writing is salty and vivid; his observation accurate and compassionate.” Clive Barnes noted the The Hot L Baltimore “is an easy play to love. . . . Mr. Wilson is both funny and sad about today, and the combination is unbeatable.”

The Hot L Baltimore walked off with the New York Drama Critics Award for Best American Play, and an OBIE as Best Play. Mari Gorman landed the OBIE for Distinguished Performance, a Theatre World Award, and a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance. Trish Hawkins received a Drama Desk Award for Most Promising Performer, as well as a Theatre World Award, while Marshall W. Mason won an OBIE for Distinguished Direction.

238. HOT ICE. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Charles Ludlam, Black-Eyed Susan.

HOT ICE [Comedy/Crime/Death/Science-Fiction] A/D: Charles Ludlam; S/C: Edward Avedisian; L: Richard Currie; P: Ridiculous Theatrical Company; T: Evergreen Theatre (OB); 2/7/74-4/28/74 (94)

Charles Ludlam’s zany troupe of Off-Off Broadway satirists, the Ridiculous Theatrical Company, produced Hot Ice as a regular Off-Broadway production during a season that also included their eccentric revival of Camille. Ludlam, as usual, wrote, directed, and starred in this campy comedy about criminal capering concerning a crew of cryogenic crooks and their conflict with the cops, that is, the Euthanasia Police.

Ludlam’s verbal legerdemain—puns, literary, social, and political allusions, quotes from Jimmy Cagney films, plays on words—was put to service in this crime-film spoof about the members of the Cryogenic Foundation trying to foil death’s killing spree by freezing everything live they can get their hands on. Undercover cop Buck Armstrong (Ludlam) comes to the aid of one of the intended subjects (Black-Eyed Susan) and saves the day.

Gender switching, a frequent Ludlam device, was evident in the role of a bare-breasted woman played by a bald man wearing a plastic chest piece, a man dressed in hot pants and miniskirt, and so on. During the show, there also was a Pirandellian interruption from the audience to protest euthanasia. Ludlam dropped his Buck Armstrong character at this point to reject the bit as too Pirandellian to suit him.

Mel Gussow, who relished this group’s work, thought all who had similar tastes would like it, although the script could have been more compact. “Hot Ice is Ludlamian, which is to say ur-Ridiculous—a manic collection of gags, word plays and horseplay, with enough sense beneath the nonsense to make the evening food for thought.” To Walter Kerr, on the other hand, the troupe was “undisciplined and often flailing,” as they had had never “learned how to make humor out of anarchy.” Of their vaunted word play, he commented, “Babes in arms have done better.”

Ludlamites involved included Bill Veer, Richard Currie, Jack Mallory, Lola Pashalinski, John D. Brockmeyer, and others. 

Thursday, July 23, 2020

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

Tony Tanner, Danny Sewell, Norman Barrs, (front) Eric Berry, Lawrence Keith, Janice Rule
THE HOMECOMING [Dramatic Revival] A: Harold Pinter; D: Jerry Adler; S/L: Dahl Delu; P: Joel W. Schenker; T: Bijou Theatre (OB); 5/18/71-6/13/71 (32)

Mixed reviews greeted this Pinter masterpiece of sexual and familial tension in its first New York revival since the outstanding Royal Shakespeare Company production, directed by Peter Hall, opened in New York in 1967, only a few years earlier. Director Jerry Adler had served that presentation as production manager, leading several critics to note the similarities between the RSC version and his.

Lee Silver said he thought the play a vacuum at heart, but considered it “tautly staged, splendidly performed.” Richard Watts, Jr., applauded it as “forcefully revived,” while Jack Kroll considered it acceptable but inferior to the earlier staging. Martin Gottfried, however, said it was an “excellent revival . . . , one so lucid that you can look through its glassiness to see each layer of impulse, feeling and story in the play.” However, a few, like Walter Kerr, felt the result was too literal, thus robbing the work of its deliberate ambiguity.

Least enthused were critics Edith Oliver and John Simon. The former rated the production as “tame,” while the latter, an avowed anti-Pinterite, averred that the play “does not make sense,” it is too imbued with “the latent homosexuality” he saw in much of the playwright’s work, and rebuked this mounting as “one part carbon copy of Peter Hall’s, one part old gags, and two parts deadly stasis.”

The company included Eric Berry as Max, Tony Tanner as Lenny, Norman Barrs as Sam, Lawrence Keith as Teddy, Janice Rule as Ruth, and Danny Sewell as Joey. Sewell was good enough to receive an OBIE for Distinguished Performance.

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

Ralph Richardson, John Gielgud.
HOME [Comedy-Drama/British/Hospital/Mental Illness/Old Age] A: David Storey; D: Lindsay Anderson; S/C: Joyce Herbert; L: Jules Fisher; M: Alan Price; P: Alexander H. Cohen; T: Morosco Theatre; 11/17/70-2/20/71 (110)

The critics disagreed about Home’s ultimate literary value, but no one disputed its ability to provide a topnotch English acting company with a foundation on which to erect an ensemble performance of brilliant artistry. Set in a mental institution, Home’s locale only slowly becomes apparent as the small cast chats about the present and past. There are two couples, one male, one female, and a powerful fellow named Alfred (Graham Weston), who’s had a lobotomy. This was, after all, the era of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

John Gielgud, Mona Washbourne.
Sirs John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson, longtime friends and artistic rivals as leaders of the British theatre’s thespian aristocracy, played to perfection the roles of two elegant, elderly gents, Harry and Jack, respectively. Their poignant revelations about their past lives and loves and losses are expressed in highly impressionistic dialogue. This, crammed with suggestive ellipses, was likened by the critics to Chekhov, Pinter, and Beckett.

Jessica Tandy, Ralph Richardson, Mona Washbourne, John Gielgud.
 Walter Kerr, however, thought “The calculated stasis seems . . . both weary and artful. . . . Beckett without the poetry, . . . Pinter with the tension.” The essentially actionless style impressed Harold Clurman, who described it as “pointilistic. . . . Minute dots of broken utterances which compose a curiously melancholy whole.” And Brendan Gill was moved by the unsentimental depiction of man’s inevitable progress toward death and his inability to make contact with others along the way.

Gielgud and Richardson played exquisitely on the subtle hints provided by their roles. John J. O’Connor noted that “Gielgud can turn the removal of a speck of lint from his friend’s sleeve into an unforgettable moment.” Clive Barnes thought the star has “a look of pained pleasure, his eyes sometimes crinkled with tears, or his body stiffly erect, with perfect manners covering up depths of loss, oceans of grief.” Martin Gottfried was less kind, however: “John Gielgud is a less complete actor [than Richardson] and refuses to alter his thin-necked, nasal passage oratory for any role, so literal, he insists on finding his own sense in the lines, missing what Richardson has realized—the sense of the lines in the play’s world.” Still, he had to admit that Gielgud was “nevertheless moving.” He wrote of Richardson that he “is extraordinary, creating a powerfully tragic Jack through expression, gesture, stance, voice production and (finally) art.”

Ralph Richardson, Graham Weston, Jessica Tandy, John Gielgud, Mona Washbourne.
 Together with the sterling performances of veteran actresses Dandy Nichols (succeeded by a deglamorized Jessica Tandy) and Mona Washbourne as other aging residents of the institution, the production offered what John Simon called a “string quintet [of] marvelous tone clusters, cagey silences, shrewd rubatoes, and shimmering polytonality. Home does not really work as a play, but as a concert it is close to sublime.”

Mona Washbourne, Dandy Nichols.
For all that, Home was recognized by the Drama Critics Circle as Best Play, and snared a Tony nomination for the same thing. Gielgud was given the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance and also received a Tony nomination. Richardson was also handed a Drama Desk Award and a Tony nomination, while also being selected by a Variety poll as Male Lead, Straight Play. Washbourne was Tony nominee, for Supporting Actress, Play, while also leading Variety’s poll for Actress, Supporting Role. Finally, Lindsay Anderson landed a Tony nomination for his direction.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

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

Mary Lou Rosato, Cynthia Herman, Dakin Matthews, David Ogden Stiers.

Note: Several entries beginning with the letter H were inadvertently overlooked when their turn came to be posted. They are now being posted, albeit belatedly and out of alphabetical order.

THE HOSTAGE Dramatic Revival] A: Brendan Behan. D: Gene Lesser; S: Douglas W. Schmidt; C: Carrie F. Robbins; L: Joe Pacitti; P: City Center Acting Company; T: Good Shepherd-Faith Church; 10/9/72-10/28/72 (8)

Brendan Behan’s 1958 comi-tragic picture of Irish political unrest, which came to New York in 1960, was given its third revival in this version produced in repertory with five other plays by the young and new City Center Acting Company (as the Acting Company was then called). This was a troupe of traveling players founded by John Houseman with recent graduates of Juilliard’s School of Drama. The other plays then in their ambitious repertoire were The School for Scandal, U.S.A., Women Beware Women, The Lower Depths, and Next Time I'll Sing to You

It was a valiant attempt, but beyond their still not fully professional abilities to manage. The play’s political themes, once capable of being laughed at (I saw in 1960 and can still recall laughing hysterically), now verged on the somber in light of recent North Irish-British problems.

Filled with boisterous high-jinx and music hall turns, Behan’s play was well staged and conceived, but the uneven company couldn’t rise to the occasion. Among its members were such future well-known players as Benjamin Hendrickson, Kevin Kline, Patti LuPone, Dakin Matthews, Mary Joan Negro, Mary Lou Rosato, David Schramm, Norman Snow, Cynthia Herman, David Ogden Stiers, and Sam Tsoutsouvas. As reported, their accents were unconvincing and they lacked the comic brio needed for this “ramshackle affair,” as John Simon phrased it. Behan’s play, now seen as weak-jointed, was simply not a good choice for the struggling young company, a company, however, that still exists, after all these years.

233. THE HOLLOW CROWN. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Michael Redgrave.
THE HOLLOW CROWN [Dramatic Revival] AD: John Barton; D: Patrick Tucker; DS: Anna Steiner; P: Brooklyn Academy of Music i/a/w Brooklyn College, and by Paul Elliott and Duncan C. Weldon b/a/w the Royal Shakespeare Company in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre Production; T: Brooklyn Academy of Music (OB); 4/18/74-4/28/74 (7)

John Barton’s program of materials from diverse sources based on the kings and queens of English history was first seen in New York in 1963. This revival was presented by the Royal Shakespeare Company in a repertory season shared with a new anthology, Pleasure and Repentance. Edith Oliver said the selections “couldn’t be better” and the performances by the five-member cast “couldn’t be better, either.” The cast was led by one of England's greatest Shakespearean, Sir Michael Redgrave, his distinguished company including Sara Kestelman, James Grout, Paul Hardwick, and Martin Best.

The simple setting consisted of a table with five chairs and a glass of red wine placed before each chair. The actors all wore black.

The material ranged from Shakespeare to Sir Thomas Malory. Some of it was comic, some tragic, and some sung as well as acted. Remembering the earlier mounting, Oliver wrote, “I seems even better than it did the first time, if that is possible.”

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

John Glover, Charlotte Moore.
HOLIDAY [Dramatic Revival] A: Philip Barry; D: Michael Montel; S: Edward Burbridge; C: Donald Brooks; L: Ken Billington; P: New Phoenix Repertory Company; T: Ethel Barrymore Theatre; 12/24/73-2/16/74 (28)

Curt Kaibalis, Ellen Tovatt, Charlotte Moore, Bonnie Gallup, David Dukes, John Glover.
Philip Barry’s 1928 success had not been revived in New York since its original mounting. In this revival by the New Phoenix Repertory Company, as part of their three-play season, it proved moderately worth the effort. Barry’s language was still “dazzling,” thought Clive Barnes, its ideals remained intriguing, and its story amusing.

The play, best known for its 1938 movie version starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, tells of the conflict between the iconoclastic young lawyer, Johnny Case (John Glover, in the Grant role)--engaged to the wealthy socialite Julia Seton (Robin Pearson Rose)--and her father, Edward Seton (George Ede), who believes in a life devoted to the never-ending pursuit of the buck. Johnny meets a like-minded ally in Linda (Charlotte Moore, in the Hepburn role),  the unconventional sister of his fiancée. (Moore, today, is the extremely capable artistic director of the Irish Repertory Theatre.)

Despite widespread critical enjoyment of the script, this production was short of fulfilling its requirements. Edward Burbridge’s scenery was fine, and Michael Montel’s direction on target, but the acting was uncertain and lacking in the polish and depth of Barry’s drawing-room style. Walter Kerr called the show “lightweight,” and Barnes said the performances were not “secure.” David Dukes, Bill Moor, Thomas A. Stewart, Bonnie Gallup, Ellen Tovatt, and Curt Karibalis were among those in the cast. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2020


HEAVEN AND HELL’S AGREEMENT [Drama/Family/Marriage/Military/Race/Vietnam] A: J.E. Gaines; D: Anderson Johnson; C: La Donna Harris; L: Sandra Ross; D: Negro Ensemble Company; T: St. Marks Playhouse (OB); 4/9/74-4/14/74 (8)

Note: No photos available.

The last in a series of four one-week productions launched by the NEC as a “Season-Within-A-Season.” It was judged “the most original and the strongest of the lot” by Edith Oliver. Written by actor “Sonny Jim” Gaines, this family drama told an Enoch Arden-like tale of Buddy (Gary Bolling), a GI who is reported missing in action in Vietnam, but, after 10 years, returns home unexpectedly to his young wife, Norma Jean (Michele Shay). There, as per the formula, he discovers that she’s in love with a guy named Bert (Louis Morenzie).

Norma Jean feels a link to her husband, long thought dead, so strong she cannot break it to leave him and marry the other man. She and Buddy have never been absent from each other’s thoughts all through the years. During his long period of hiding in a cave, she appeared to him nightly. Oliver described this marital connection as one of a powerful “possession.” The husband’s parents figure in much of the action, but the focus is on Buddy, his wife, and the other man.

Mel Gussow said the play ended “inconclusively,” had an aimless feeling, and unsteady language, but he added that some of it was “liltingly authentic.” He wanted it to receive more work to give it “definition and concentration,” an opinion shared by Oliver, for whom, despite its strengths, it was “still in the works.”  It seems never to have been given another chance locally, though.

228. HEATHEN! From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Russ Thacker, Yolande Bavan, Edward Rambeau.
HEATHEN! [Musical/Period/Religion/Youth] B: Robert Helpmann and Eaton Magoon, Jr.; M/LY: Eaton Magoon, Jr.; D: Lucia Victor; CH: Sammy Bayes; S: Jack Brown; C: Bruce Harrow; L: Paul Sullivan; P: Leonard J. Goldberg and Ken Gaston i/a/w R. Paul Woodville; T: Billy Rose Theatre; 5/21/72 (1)
Edward Rambeau, Mokihana
An amateurish concoction of rock music and an inane story set in the Hawaii of 1819 and 1970, with flashbacks taking the audience from the hippie-dominated present to the missionary-dominated past. The same actors played the Hawaiians of both past and present, making the frequent time shifts clumsy and confusing.

This “complete disaster,” in Richard Watts’s words, seemed like “some sort of terrible joke,” as Martin Gottfried declared. Why Sir Robert Helpmann, the distinguished British choreographer, dancer, and director, contributed to its creation was a question on everyone’s mind. Regardless, everyone knew, as did Douglas Watt, that with Heathen!’s single performance, the 1971-1972 season had “ended in a shambles.”

; L

Monday, July 20, 2020

227. HE THAT PLAYS THE KING. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Tony Church, Ssan Fleetwood, Ian Richardson, Robin Weatherall, Mike Gwilym.
HE THAT PLAYS THE KING [Dramatic Revue/British/Literature] AD: Ian Richardson; M: Guy Woolfenden; P: Brooklyn Academy of Music b/a/w the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in the RSC Production; T: Brooklyn Academy of Music (OB); 3/29/75-4/6/75 (8)

The Royal Shakespeare Company of England, which visited New York with some regularity in the 70s, usually included one of its dramatic anthologies in its repertoire. The present one—which I've called, a bit awkwardly, a “dramatic revue”—was arranged by leading player Ian Richardson for a cast of four: himself, Tony Church, Susan Fleetwood, and Mike Gwilym, plus a musician. Unlike earlier efforts in the genre, it dispensed with reading from selected passages in favor of enacted scenes, albeit with scripts in hand to suggest the incomplete nature of the theatrics involved.

The material, dealing with kingship, was drawn from Shakespeare’s history plays and tragedies, and included bits from Henry V, Richard II, Henry IV, Henry VI, Richard III, Macbeth, Hamlet, King Lear, and King John. History predominated in Part One, tragedy in Part Two. The quartet of players ranged through selections that John Simon found “obvious and unimaginatively put together,” but that Edith Oliver called “just about perfect and beautifully meshed.” “These four actors, she enthused, “did not simply switch roles, they metamorphosed.”

The actors wore evening clothes and used a bare set with several benches and chairs for variety in blocking. A red velvet curtain hung at the rear. Only a skull and gold crown were used for props. The single other technical element of note was the running musical and sound effect commentary provided from the side of the stage by musician Robin Weatherall.

226. HAY FEVER. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Michael McGuire, Marian Mercer, John Tillinger, Shirley Booth, Sam Waterstson, Roberta Maxwell, John Williams, Carole Shelley. 
HAY FEVER [Dramatic Revival] A: Nöel Coward; D: Arvin Brown; S/L: Ben Edwards; C: Jane Greenwood; P: Leonard Sillman; T: Helen Hayes Theatre; 11/9/70-11/28/70 (24)

Some of New York’s best-known actors were involved in this sorry revival of the popular 1925 comedy about Judith Bliss (Shirley Booth), an overly dramatic ex-actress, her eccentric family, and their odd assortment of discomfited June weekend guests. Almost without exception, the critics were allergic to the performance of the egregiously miscast leading lady. 

Shirley Booth.
With one exception, her company didn’t come off much better: its distinguished roster included Sam Waterston as Simon Bliss, Roberta Maxwell as Sorel Bliss, John Williams as David Bliss, John Tillinger as Sandy Tyrell, Marian Mercer as Myra Arundel, Michael McGuire as Richard Greatham, Sudie Bond as Clara, and Carole Shelley as Jackie Coynton.

Instead of dazzling, the play—long a fixture on stock and regional stages—fizzled, and was “only spasmodically effective,” declared Clive Barnes. His colleagues expressed fondness for the writing, but found Arvin Brown’s staging poor, the British accents erratic, and sometimes awful, and the overall level of performance mediocre.

Only Carole Shelley achieved widespread homage, typified by Douglas Watt’s dubbing her “the big hit of the evening . . . in a gem of a portrayal of perhaps the most wretched flapper ever produced by the Jazz Age—a cringing, abject figure utterly lost in this household and given to sudden yelps of anguish.”

Costumer Jane Greenwood received one of her many Tony nominations for her designs.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

225. THE HASHISH CLUB. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Jack Rowe, Gar Campbell, Lance Larsen, Dennis Redfield, Michael Stefani.
THE HASHISH CLUB [Drama/Drugs/Friendship/Youth] A: Lance Larsen; D: Jerome Guardino; DS: Russell Pyle; P: John Voight and Susan Bloom, an Elmer and Jalmia Production, Terrence Shank and Robert Waters, associate producers; T: Bijou Theatre; 1/3/75-1/11/75 (11)

Brought to New York from Los Angeles by its original troupe, members of the Company Theatre, this would-be piece of experimental theatre was yawned off the stage in a week. With its author in the cast, The Hashish Club pictured five young men (Lance Larsen, Jack Rowe, Gar Campbell, Dennis Redfield, and Michael Stefani) assembled for a reenactment at their messy frat house of their old college drug-taking get-togethers. This time, they eat three times their normal dosage of hash, and then await the results, hoping they’ll be stimulated to produce imaginative insights.

The evening is largely devoted to the fanciful hallucinations the men experience, these being enacted with slow motion, strobe lights, and other devices designed to let the audience vicariously share their high. Only at the end, when a loaded pistol appears and the men leave, one carrying the gun, does any suspenseful tension appear. The hallucinations enacted include a football game with a chicken and a flying carpet ride on a tabletop.

Performed in a style suggesting improvisational spontaneity, the plotless play received decent notices for the slickness of its ensemble, but its lack of dramatic substance couldn’t be avoided. Clive Barnes found most of it boring, but admitted that its climax was exciting, while Douglas Watt labeled it a “self-indulgent, idiotic spectacle” that proved “a depressant.” Martin Gottfried encountered “sheer monotony” and Brendan Gill fidgeted at its “prolix and fuzzy” craftsmanship.

224. HARK! From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Dan Goggin, Elaine Petricoff, Danny Guerrero, Marvin Solley, (front) Jack Blackton, Sharon Miller.
HARK! [Revue] M: Dan Goggin and Marvin Solley; LY: Robert Lorick: D: Darwin Knight; S/L: Chenault Spence; C: Danny Morgan; P: Robert Lissauer; T: Mercer-O’Casey Theatre (OB); 5/22/72-10/1/72 (152)

An excellent, well-received show that demonstrated the effectiveness of a bookless musical completely set to music with a vague thematic throughline. The theme of Hark! Was a loose birth-to-death concept expressed in songs referring to things like youth, overpopulation, undertaking, sexuality, Vietnam, urban living, and so on. It was smoothly produced on a circular space, with considerable use of movement. Martin Gottfried would have liked more dancing and less stress on the need for the music to carry the show. Still, he was ecstatic about the “marvelous” music and the range of styles demonstrated.

Douglas Watt wished the theme might have been more imaginatively expressed, but felt the show’s “spring-like charm,” and commended its “brisk and disarming” lack of pretension. And Richard Watts smiled brightly at “a score that a more ambitious musical show could use to advantage.” Among the few negative responses was Edith Oliver’s, which claimed that “tolerable is the most that can be said” of Hark!

The six-member cast included Jack Blackton, Dan Goggin, Danny Guerrero, Sharon Miller, Elaine Petricoff, and Marvin Solley. Goggin’s name may be most familiar because he later created the internationally successful show Nunsense.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

223. "HAPPY DAYS" and "ACT WITHOUT WORDS." From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy.
HAPPY DAYS and ACT WITHOUT WORDS [Dramatic Revivals] A: Samuel Beckett; D: Alan Schneider; S: Douglas W. Schmidt; C: Sara Brook; L: John Gleason; P: Repertory Theatre of Lincoln Center; T: Forum Theatre (OB); 11/20/72-12/17/72 (16)

Jessica Tandy.
These short Beckett works were staged as part of a Beckett festival at the Forum, when that lovely theatre (now the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre) was threatened with destruction to make it over into a movie theatre/museum. The conversion never took place, largely because of the public outcry. The plays were smoothly staged there by Alan Schneider, then America’s foremost Beckett director. They seemed, under the circumstances, a fitting tribute to man’s indomitable will to survive in the face of life’s brutal realities.

The minimalist character of Beckett’s dramaturgy, as well as his power to convey great truths in a devastatingly understated way, was highly regarded by the critics. John Simon expostulated that Beckett’s “is a drama reduced beyond the absurd to the molecular structure of our condition, to atoms of suffering and laughter. Beckettian man is laughing through his cursing and weeping; cursing God, bewailing his birth, laughing at himself.”

“Happy Days” was first seen locally in 1965 at the Cherry Lane Theatre. It quickly become a lodestone for leading character actresses seeking a challenging role. Winnie (Jessica Tandy) is an aging lady buried up to her waist (and, later, her neck) in a mound of sand. The image is of death creeping up on her as she blithely speaks on and on, surrounded by her few necessities and a similarly failing, flailing old husband, Willie (Hume Cronyn, Tandy’s real-life spouse).
Hume Cronyn.
Winnie is intended for a tour de force performer. The critics took pains to compare Tandy to her predecessors in the role. They showed great respect for her work, although several spoke of an uncomfortable stridency in her pitch. Hers was not, perhaps, the definitive interpretation but it was masterful nonetheless, “lean with the frustrations of memory,” said Clive Barnes. She made Winnie “a gentle woman with a lightness of touch, sensibility, gallantry, and a clear, fluty voice that barely covers panic.”

The second piece, “Act without Words,” was a 10-minute, one-man pantomime for Hume Cronyn in which, dressed in a white suit, a man grapples valiantly with a frustrating series of blows, kicks, and deprivations from powers outside himself until he seems to lie on death’s doorstep. Cronyn’s agility was applauded, but the piece failed to maintain continued interest. Cronyn also acted "Krapp's Last Tape" during the Beckett festival.

Tandy won a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance, which included her work in Beckett’s “Not I” on the bill with "Krapp's Last Tape."