Friday, August 7, 2020

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 From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Joseph Hunter, Despo.
ISTANBOUL [Comedy-Drama/Nudity/Period/Sex] A: Rochelle Owens; D: Robert Weinstein; S: Robert O. Taylor; C: Mylo Quam; L: John Dodd; P: Robert Weinstein i/a/w Trendsetter Enterprises; T: Actors Playhouse (OB); 2/8/71-2/13/71 (8)

Conrad Fowkes, Sarina C. Grant.

A pair of Norman knights on their way back to the Crusades encounter various adventures in 15th-century Constantinople/Istanboul [sic]. A bit of nudity is introduced when the wife of one of these soldiers engages in sex with a male tavern dancer. The central character, St. Mary of Egypt (Despo), is a foul-smelling local who as an affair with the married knight.

Avant-gardist Rochelle Owens’s play and its production were heavily panned. Clive Barnes observed that it was “drably unfunny,” “empty of wit, devoid of passion and barren of interest,” despite the writer’s apparent abilities. He continued, noting that “The acting, with one exception [Despo], varied between the deplorable and the deplorable.” Dick Brukenfeld noted that “the director hasn’t found a way to overcome this play’s deficiencies, which are legion.” Michael Feingold, who wrote for the same paper (The Village Voice), however, assailed his colleague’s opinion, defending Owens’s work while blasting the presentation. Brukenfeld responded by challenging Feingold to direct Istanboul himself to prove his point.

This was the play’s fifth New York production, albeit its first with in an Off-Broadway—rather than Off-Off—mounting.