|Lisa Richards, Stephen Collins.|
THE LAST DAYS OF BRITISH HONDURAS [Drama/British Honduras/Politics/Prison/Science-Fiction] A: Ronald Tavel; D: David Schweizer; S: Paul Zalon; C: Timothy Miller; L: Ian Calderon; P: New York Shakespeare Festival; T: Pubic Theater/Other Stage (OB); 11/5/74-12/15/74 (12)
Ronald Tavel’s “mystic mystery play,” as Clive Barnes dubbed it, proved “a curious farrago” to critics like John Simon. British Honduras forms the background to this work about a jailed American archaeology/astronomy student, Danyon Paron, Jr. (Stephen Collins), whose interests in thought transference are linked to the author’s wish to explain how the twelfth-century Mayan civilization of 53 million souls managed to mysteriously disappear without a trace.
The action is set in 1970, just before the plebiscite is taken to establish national independence. It moves around freely from Danyon’s prison cell to a tree house to a jungle to a village tavern. A variety of characters appear, including a Black prisoner named Rabbit (Don Blakeley), who can be in two places at once; Joseph Austin (Norman Matlock), a Black politician with dreams of power; Ali Balam (Marc Vahanian), a Mayan from outer space; Suzanne (Sheila Gibbs), a village waitress; and Danyon’s girlfriend, Lornette (Lisa Richards), held hostage in the jungle by Ali Balam.
Barnes thought the play lacked credibility, and said it was “clumsily constructed and its various levels of political intrigue and philosophical melodrama not well meshed together.” Simon called it “pretentious” and took Tavel to task not only for his “ludicrous aspirations,” but for his predilection—in this and other plays—for giving his characters awful puns to speak. Barnes cited the following as an example of Tavel’s “oddly convoluted” wordplay: “I cannot love the ground unless you are the grounds upon which I love it.”
Notable actors involved included Daniel Hedaya and Frankie Faison.