Wednesday, September 30, 2020

336. MURDEROUS ANGELS. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Lou Gossett, Barbara Colby.
MURDEROUS ANGELS [Drama/Irish/Homosexuality/Politics] A: Conor Cruse O’Brien; D: Gordon 24Davidson; S: Peter Wexler; C: Frank Thompson; L: Gilbert Hemsley, Jr.; Phoenix Theatre b/a/w Elliott Martin and George W. George; T: Playhouse Theatre; 12/20/71-1/9/72 (24)

Humbert Allen Astredo, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Donald Symington, Richard Easton.

A wordy, semi-documentary, political drama by a former Irish representative to the United Nations and a special representative of that body to Katanga in 1961. His belief, outlined in the play, was that the death of Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba (Lou Gossett) in 1961 could have been averted if UN Secretary-General Dag Hammerskjold (Jean-Pierre Aumont), presented here as gay, had intervened.

Hammerskjold’s ostensible reason for his decision was his fear that Lumumba would turn for support of his political aims in achieving freedom for the Congo from foreign capitalist exploitation by turning to the Communist bloc, thereby threatening world peace. Seven months after Lumumba’s assassination, Hammerskjold was himself killed in a plane crash in the Congo. O’ Brien’s thesis is that he died as the result of a saboteur’s bomb, arranged for by European capitalists.

The drama sat not very well with most critics, although Clive Barnes thought it “a good, controversial political play—it excites the mind and . . . deserves to be seen.” The degree of subjectivity involved in the depiction of personalities and events was a major bone of contention, some arguing that the author was biased, others that his ideas were based on documented fact. The production, which incorporated film clips and projections, as well as the placement of actors in the audience, tried to suggest a dispassionate explication of the situations, but the result for many was an excess of didacticism.

The obscure subject (for most New York theatregoers, anyway) and the difficulty of transferring it to a play led to “a hodgepodge,” wrote John Simon, “muddled and strangely undramatic.” The acting of the large company ranged from poor to adequate, but there was a considerable number who said that Lou Gossett was outstanding. Also, those who saw both productions felt that the New York staging seemed less secure than its original, which premiered in 1970 at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles.

The substantial cast included Donald Symington, Richard Easton, Barbara Colby, Richard Venture, Humbert Allen Astredo, and John Baragrey.


Tuesday, September 29, 2020



Kathleen Widdoes, Sam Waterston.

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING [Dramatic Revival] A: William Shakespeare; D: A.J. Antoon; S Ming Cho Lee; C: Theoni V. Aldredge; L: Martin Aronstein; M: Peter Link; P: New York Shakespeare Festival; T: Delacorte Theater (OB); 8/16/72-9/3/72 (20); Winter Garden Theatre; 11/11/72-2/11/73 (136)

Mark Hammer, April Shawhan, Bette Heinritze, Kathleen Widdoes, Glenn Walken, Sam Waterston. 

Clearly one of the most popular Shakespearean revivals of the period, A.J. Antoon’s staging of Much Ado about Nothing was moved to Broadway over a year after its Central Park premiere and might have run indefinitely had not the sale of tickets declined following a nationally televised broadcast of the show. The story is told in detail in Kenneth Turan and Joseph Papp’s Free for All, a must read about Joe Papp’s legacy at the Public, which offers other fascinating sidelights on the show as well.

Kathleen Widdoes, April Shawhan, Tom McDermott, Sam Waterston, Glenn Walken.

This was Shakespeare gussied up and revivified through the oft-used, infrequently successful, method of transposing the action to a later historical period more familiar to a modern audience than whatever the playwright provided. Instead of 16th-century Messina, Italy, Antoon chose a turn-of-the-20th-century Southwestern American background. The sets and costumes, directorial devices, and music were, for the most part, ingeniously integrated into an unusually effective romantic comedy that most critics adored.

A gaily bedecked oompah-pah brass band greeted the entering audience and, throughout the show, provided a considerable number of selections devised by Peter Link to suggest pre-World War I American music. Scott Joplin ragtime tunes were conspicuous as well. Dance numbers, including a cakewalk set to Shakespeare’s “Sigh no more, ladies,” were staged by Donald Saddler. There were straw boaters aplenty, men in celluloid collars, striped blazers, and spats. A noisy Stanley Steamer made an appearance, women secretly stole puffs from cigarettes, Barnard Hughes’s hilarious Dogberry led a bunch of Keystone-cop constabularies, phonographs with huge horns spouted music, draft beer foamed, gazebos captured the period look, and so on.

Barnard Hughes, Will Mackenzie.

Ming Cho Lee’s white set, described by Clive Barnes as “a lovely wooden construction of complex terraces, platforms, catwalks, and alcoves” backed by “huge, pop-art panels emblazoned with pictures of” contemporary figures and newspaper clippings, was an eye-filler, as were Theoni V. Aldredge’s “sparkling yet unexaggerated costumes,” as John Simon noted.

Much Ado was directed with such “verve and extravagance,” said Brendan Gill, with actors who were so able to make their words comprehensible and totally believable within the context, that Barnes believed he would remember this production “with affection” as long as he lived. Representative of the critical response was Edwin Wilson’s remark: “The mood of the period seems to fit that of the play exceptionally well: the far-away perspective of the nineties allows us to view the troubles of the young lovers with just the right mixture of detachment, nostalgia and affection.”

There were very few dissident voices, among them the usual maverick, John Simon, for whom Antoon’s interpretation missed entirely the substance of the play’s meanings. He felt the apple pie locale was wrong, for in this “indolent, Never-Never-Land . . . intrigue has no teeth at all,” and the characters seem to be unsuited to the language of their roles. Simon also was far less happy with the casting than most of his compeers.

Sam Waterston, Douglass Watson.

Sam Waterston received kudos for his Benedick, a soldier just returned from the Spanish American War, as did Kathleen Widdoes as Beatrice. “Both performers underplay their roles,” wrote Henry Hewes, “and give us a charming shyness and a capacity to be fooled that are all the greater because these two have been letting their heads too much rule their hearts.” The Don Pedro of Douglass Watson was exceptional, “sensitive, strong and wonderful,” insisted Martin Gottfried. Others in the company included April Shawhan as Hero and Glenn Walken as Claudio.

Company of Much Ado about Nothing.

The revival reaped much attention from the award givers. Tony nominations went to Barnard Hughes, Best Supporting Actor, Play; Kathleen Widdoes, Best Actress, Play; A.J. Antoon, Best Director, Play; Martin Aronstein, Best Lighting Designer; and Peter Link, Best Score. Drama Desk Awards were given to Sam Waterston, Douglass Watson, and Theoni V. Aldredge (shared with her work on Hamlet). Waterston also landed an OBIE for Distinguished Performance.




Sunday, September 27, 2020


Kathryn Walker, Leora Dana, Donald Symington.

MOURNING PICTURES [Drama/Death/Family/Illness] A: Honor Moore; D: Kay Carney; S: John Jacobsen; C: Whitney Blausen; L: Spencer Mosse; M: Susan Ain; P: Samuel B. Schwartz in the Lenox Arts Center/Music Theatre Performing Group Production; T: Lyceum Theatre; 11/10/74 (1)

Maggie (Leora Dana), a woman of 50, suffers from terminal liver cancer. She is the wife of a minister (Donald Symington) and the mother of nine, one an acclaimed poet (Kathryn Walker). During a six-month period, her family watches her gradually succumb and pass away.

This somber, semi-autobiographical account by American poet and memoirist Honor Moore, then 29, and still active today, lacked sufficient dramatic merit, Moore having failed to go beyond her personal involvement in the situation to raise the subject to a more meaningful and artistically worthy plane. The play was viewed as a confrontation by the writer with a painful experience for which she was unable to “indicate the and inner rhythms and patterns of survival and offer insights on death,” opined Clive Barnes. A playwright, argued Brendan Gill, “must not induce suffering in us unless it can be made fruitful.”

Part of this production involved seven “plaintive but irreverent” songs, as Barnes called them, sung to Moore’s lyrics by Dorothea Joyce (“a singularly shrill singer,” according to John Simon). Mixed reactions greeted the acting and direction. The company mourned the show’s passing after a single performance.

Saturday, September 26, 2020



Colleen Dewhurst, Donald Davis, Pamela Payton-Wright.

MOURNING BECOMES ELECTRA [Dramatic Revival] A: Eugene O’Neill; D: Theodore Mann; S: Marsha L. Eck; C: Noel Taylor; L: Jules Fisher; P: Circle in the Square; T: Circle in the Square Joseph E. Levine Theatre; 11/15/72-12/31/72 (55)

Colleen Dewhurst, Pamela Payton-Wright.

O’Neill’s towering melodrama of the Civil War period, set in New England at the neoclassical mansion of the Mannon family, and based on the Greek tragic trilogy, The Oresteia, received its first New York revival since the original of 1931 in this production. Its presentation opened the new 650-seat, Broadway-status Circle in the Square Joseph E. Levine Theatre, a big step up from the Circle’s long history as an iconic Off-Broadway venue in Greenwich Village.

Alan Mixon, Colleen Dewhurst.

The reaction to the revival was mixed. Brendan Gill recommended “it without the slightest reservation as a grave and beautiful play,” but John Simon thought the direction “without a trace of imagination.” He also was unimpressed by the acting and play. Clive Barnes was moved by “a great play and a distinguished production,” but for Douglas Watt the production was “only passable,” while for Richard Watts it was “satisfactory though not altogether brilliant.”

Colleen Dewhurst, Stephen McHattie.

The revival was marred by the arena-style theatre’s problematic acoustics, of which many complained, and by the basic difficulty of producing this play in the round, when it requires a proscenium to provide a scenic dimension of grandeur. The play was cut to less than four hours (“skillfully cut” wrote Gill; “severely cut,” chafed Simon), but even as the critics detailed the playwright’s various technical imperfections, many stressed how steadily the drama held and developed their interest.

Colleen Dewhurst, despite her notable vocal qualities, suffered projection problems, but was a strong and straightforward Christine. She received a Tony nomination for Best Actress, Play, and a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance. Pamela Payton-Wright was considered a feeling, if not overwhelmingly bitter, Lavinia. Her reward was another Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance. The large company included William Hickey as Seth Beckwith, Jocelyn Brando as Minnie and Emma Borden, Alan Mixon as Capt. Adam Brant, Donald Davis as Brig. Gen. Ezra Mannon, and Stephen McHattie as Orin Mannon.


Friday, September 25, 2020

362. THE MOTHER OF US ALL. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975


Judith Erickson, Phyllis Worthington
THE MOTHER OF US ALL [Musical Revival] B/LY: Gertrude Stein; M: Virgil Thompson; D: Elizabeth Keen and Roland Gagnos; S: Oliver Smith; C: Patricia Zipprodt; L: Richard Nelson; P: Lyn Austin, Orin Lehman, Hale Matthews, and Oliver Smith; T: Guggenheim Museum (OB); 11/26/72-12/10/72 (17)

Seen in the summer of 1972 at the Lenox Arts Center in the Berkshires, this revival of the 1947 Stein-Thompson opera about suffragette Susan B. Anthony (Judith Erickson, alternating with Phyllis Worthington) came to New York several months later in the guise of an Off-Broadway musical, its unusual venue being the Guggenheim Museum.

Stein’s dense and convoluted style made the text hard to penetrate, yet there was admiration for her intelligence and craft. Thompson’s avant-garde music was not considered especially rewarding, despite the work’s being “one of the few durable products in American musical history,” according to Clive Barnes. He also admitted that it sounded dated.

Exquisitely set against Oliver Smith’s screens, and costumed in brown, gold, and white by Patricia Zipprodt, the show looked lovely. It was well sung and directed (overall “artistic direction” was credited to the composer himself), but it proved too special in appeal and closed early.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

361. MOTHER EARTH. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Gail Boggs, John Bennett Perry, Kelly Garrett, Kimberly Farr.

MOTHER EARTH [Musical Revue/Environmentalism/Science] SK/LY: Ron Thronson; M: Toni Shearer; D: Ray Golden; CH: Lynn Morris; S: Alan Kimmel; C: Mary McKinley; L: Paul Sullivan; P: Roger Ailes in the Ray Golden Production; T: Belasco Theatre; 10/19/72-10/28/72 (12)

Kelly Garrett, Charlie J. Rodriguez, Rick Podell.

A combination of songs and sketches originating in California, and purporting to advocate the need for ecological intelligence, but impaired by a dearth of quality material. Air and water pollution, the need to protect our national resources, the problems of an uncontrolled birth rate, our national pill-taking obsession, defoliation techniques in Vietnam, and test-tube babies were among the subjects touched on. Unfortunately, the attack was often banal, the messages unsubtle, and the performances occasionally amateurish.

Nevertheless, the nine-member cast—which included Kimberly Farr—had a youthful zest and charm, some of the rock tunes were pleasant, and a young singer named Kelly Garrett was said to have sensational possibilities. Though her career was not as long-lasting as her talent might have suggested, she received a Tony nomination for The Night That Made America Famous and was beaten out for the role of Mabel Normand in Mack and Mabel by Bernadette Peters.

Followers of the media and politics might note the name of this progressively-themed show's producer.

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


THE MOTHER [Dramatic Revival] A: Bertolt Brecht; TR: Lee Baxendall; D/DS: San Francisco Mime Troupe; P: Chelsea Theatre Center of Brooklyn; T: Westside Theatre (OB); 11/20/74-12/23/74 (21)

Note: no photos of this production are available.

In the same season that saw New York’s first production of Brecht’s 1930 lehrstücke, or “teaching piece,” The Measures Taken, came this revival of another Brechtian political propaganda play, 1931’s The Mother, based on Maxim Gorky’s Russian novel. Its tale concerns the inevitability of revolutionary action, expressed in the character of a working-class mother who is moved inexorably to become a fighter in the class war by the exploitation she witnesses of her radical son and his coworkers. The play was vividly staged by the politically-oriented San Francisco Mime Troupe during its guest residency at the Chelsea Theatre. The production was an ensemble collaboration and no credit was given to any individual for the acting, direction, or design.

Lee Baxendall’s “stiff” translation, said Mel Gussow, was “colloquialized and improved,” two characters were changed from male to female to develop the play’s feminist implications, slogan-bearing placards with the words of Lenin and Marx were replaced by the statements of contemporary figures such as George Jackson and Richard Nixon, modern protest songs were added, and the effect was one of greater “universality” as “a general call to arms against subjugation and Depression.”

Theatricalist techniques allowed the actors to play multiple roles through quick changes. Working with minimalist means, using painted, instead of realistic, props and sets, and iconographic tableaux and movement, the troupe led Gussow to assert, “the entire production is as sharp and deliberate as acupuncture.” It puzzled Walter Kerr, however, since he thought parts of it exciting and brilliantly done, while other parts were “undefined in manner, . . . slapdash in execution.” He felt that the company’s eclectic range of methods had let them down by encouraging the actors “to do anything to avoid a moment’s dead air.” Kerr also thought the play and its call for the red flag of communism a dated one, given the hindsight that history provides of the totalitarianism that flag had come to represent.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020



Stephen Collins, Meat Loaf, Seth Allen, Kimberly Farr, Kim Milford, Larry Marshall, Terry Kiser, Tom Leo (on floor).

MORE THAN YOU DESERVE [Musical/Drugs/Journalism/Military/Prostitution/Sex/Vietnam/War] B: Michael Weller; M: Jim Steinman; LY: Michael Weller and Jim Steinman; D: Kim Friedman; CH: Scott Salmon; S: Miguel Romero; C: Lowell Detweiler; L: Martin Aronstein; P: New York Shakespeare Festival; T: Public Theater; T: Public Theater/Estelle R. Newman Theater (OB); 11/21/73-1/13/74 (63)

Book writer Michael Weller attempted here a vicious black comedy about American involvement in Vietnam and its capacity for massacres like the one at My Lai in this M*A*S*H-like parody (with hints of South Pacific) of war comedies. However, his enthusiasm led him to create an inconsistent, insufficiently amusing show that added little to the genre.

The offbeat plot, set at an army base in Vietnam, concerned such characters as a female foreign correspondent (Kimberly Farr) who becomes a nymphomaniac after enjoying being gang raped; a manly soldier who loses his sexual prowess, dies, and has his personality transferred to another sexually troubled GI; the attraction of the reporter for the base commander (Fred Gwynne) and the latter’s decision to modernize the local village in the manner of middle America; and, among other things, the commander’s ability to have sex with the reporter only when he is handling a gun.

Brothels, prostitutes, and all sorts of drug use provided a background against which the bizarre comedy was enacted. Rather than satirizing American war policies, the show concentrated on exploring the theme of war’s capacity to sexually stimulate otherwise impotent persons.

More Than You Deserve had a decent rock score, much of it a pastiche of World War II movie songs. Sample song titles included "Give Me the Simple Life," "Could She Be the One?," "Mama, You Better Watch Out for Your Daughter," "More Than You Deserve," "Go, Go, Go Guerillas," "Midnight Lullaby," and so on.

The lyrics, wrote Mel Gussow, had “a precision and pungency,” but the book and direction were too diffuse for even the excellent cast to overcome. “The gags are labored, the fantasy is unfollowable, the body-mikes are so blatant that the lyrics can’t be heard,” growled Walter Kerr. Edith Oliver found it occasionally possible to “ignore the flaws,” but was more often vexed by the author’s attempt at "seriousness . . . ; his stabs at satire, his gleeful, assumed Brechtian smirk at pain and death, and his contemptuous equating of sexual impotence with military leadership or capability . . . are superficial and secondhand.” As did most other critics, Oliver had kind words for the music, the company, and the visuals.

Cast members included some distinctive artists, including Leata Galloway, Mary Beth Hurt, Larry Marshall, Meat Loaf (the rock star who often performed Steinman’s music), Stephen Collins, Seth Allen, Terry Kiser, Ronald Silver, and Dale Soules. 



 “THE MOONLIGHT ARMS” and “THE DARK TOWER” [Dramas/One-Acts/Race/Two Characters] A: Rudy Wallace; D: Osborne Scott; P: Negro Ensemble Company; T: St. Marks Playhouse (OB); 5/13/75-5/18/75 (8)

“The Moonlight Arms” [Marriage/Sex]; “The Dark Tower” [Alcoholism/Friendship]

Note: No photos are available for this entry.

The third in the 1975 Negro Ensemble Company new play festival called “A Season-Within-a-Season.” This was a studio presentation with minimal production values of two unmemorable one-acts given under the rubric, Two by Rudy Wallace. “The Moonlight Arms” is about a quarrelsome couple, a scholar named Roy (Charles Brown), and his social-climbing wife, Rena (Charliese Drakeford), who rejects his sexual needs. Mel Gussow said it was “contrived and unconvincing,” but had some decent dialogue.

“The Dark Tower” looks at the relationship of a pompous, uptight young poet, Joe (Charles Brown), and a coarse, disheveled, alcoholic old artist, Philip (Arthur French), during an encounter at the latter’s seedy apartment (the “dark tower” of the title). Gussow thought it too obviously stereotypical and heavy-handed, but enjoyed the “freshness” of the dialogue and the “healthy cynicism” of the characters. It was considered the stronger of the two plays.


Tuesday, September 22, 2020

357. MOONCHILDREN (2 productions). From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

James Woods, Cara Duff-MacCormick, Christopher Guest. (Photos: Martha Swope).


MOONCHILDREN [Comedy/College/Friendship/Illness/Sex/War/Youth] A: Michael Weller; D: Alan Schneider; S: William Ritman; C: Marjorie Slaiman; L: Martin Aronstein; P: David Merrick i/a/w Byron Goldman and Max Brown b/a/w Martin Rosen, in the Washington Arena Stage Production; T: Royale Theatre; 2/21/72-3/4/72 (16)

James Woods, Edward Hermann, Stephen Collins, Maureen Anderman, Jill Eikenberry, Christopher Guest, Kevin Conway.

Although written by an American, Michael Weller, Moonchildren was first produced at London’s Royal Court Theatre, where it was called Cancer (because one of its characters has a mother dying of the disease). After its British success, it moved to Washington, D.C.’s Arena Stage under the title by which it is now known. In New York, it received raves from the Times and several others that should have propelled it to hit status. Surprisingly, it played to empty houses and folded in two weeks, creating great consternation among its supporters. A year later, mounted Off Broadway, with an entirely different company, it clicked.

Henry Hewes, who liked the play, suggested that the reason for its Broadway flop was its lack of “stars, music, plot intrigue, sensation, romantic theatricality, or sustained painless laughter,” ingredients that appeal to the “wealthier playgoers” who fill Broadway’s large playhouses.

The comedy concerns a group of seven mildly radical college students in the mid-1960s, five men and two women, all of them vibrant with life though self-destructive. They share a shabby apartment during the year they are scheduled to graduate from their Midwestern school. The friends live their lives on a diet of fantasizing, contemptuous wisecracking, put-ons, self-deceptions, and cynicism. Sex, school, war, cancer, and peace marches are their chief conversation subjects.

Their story is loosely structured and made up of a succession of comic scenes. “[C]onstant activity is engaged in but nothing happens,” wrote Harold Clurman. It is the friends’ relationships with one another and the world around them that forms the dramatic nucleus rather than a conventional plot.

Moonchildren was adored by Walter Kerr as “one of the most moving and one of the funniest plays of the decade,” an opinion shared by Clive Barnes, who called the play “a bitterly funny and funnily bitter” work that is “an epitaph for its time.” “[F]ull of zest and authority,” it would, said Barnes, disturb some, but others would find it enlightening. Various reviewers believed that it perfectly captured the spirit and language of mid-60s college life among a certain segment of the student population, a belief best expressed by Julius Novick: “It . . . depicted, better than any play . . . I have come across, the strange combination of yearning good will, deep suspicion, envy, fascination, and wonderment with which the middle-aged generation regards those mysteriously privileged creatures, ‘the kids.’”

Among strikingly opposing voices was that of Arthur Sainer, who trashed the play as “callous pandering to the box-office” and “just so much bullshit.” Brendan Gill thought it “a lifeless little patchwork of a play,” with an uninteresting assortment of characters. And John Simon resented Weller’s “tricks,” his dishonest manipulation of plot devices and character reactions, his inaccurate “tone” in presenting his dramatic “data,” and his “infelicitous” attempts at steering the comedy into the paths of “significance.”

The most admired performances were those of Kevin Conway as Mike, James Woods as Bob Rettie, and Cara Duff-MacCormick as Shelly, a shy girl who spends much of her time seeking shelter under a table. The sizable cast, with many noteworthy names, included Maureen Anderman as Ruth, Edward Hermann as Cootie, Stephen Collins as Dick, Christopher Guest as Norman, Jill Eikenberry as Kathy, Robert Prosky as Mr. Willis, Louis Zorich as Bream, Salem Ludwig as Uncle Murry, Michael Tucker as Milkman, and so on.

Anderman won a Theatre World Award; MacCormick, who also received a Theatre World Award, was nominated for a Tony as Best Supporting Actress, Play; Woods landed another Theatre World Award; and Weller was given the Drama Desk Award for Most Promising Playwright.


[Dramatic Revival] D: John Pasquin; S: William F. Matthews; C: Mary Warren; L: Joseph Dziedzic; P: Steve Steinlauf i/a/w Jay Kingwill b/a/w Lucille Lortel Productions, Inc.; T: Theatre de Lys (OB); 11/4/73-10/20/74 (394)

Rene Tadlock, Michael Sacks, Jim Jansen.
Only a year and a half after its dismal Broadway experience, Moonchildren was an Off-Broadway hit in this entirely new version that ran for nearly a year at the Theatre de Lys. Produced by 19-year-old Steve Steinlauf, the show received even stronger notices than its earlier production. Clive Barnes, for example, thought this “a better production.” “John Pasquin’s staging,” he went on, “is exemplary." John Simon admitted that the revival was “considerably more compelling than its Broadway version,” which he now confessed to having “thoroughly underrated.” Pasquin—who would have a successful TV and film directing career—won an OBIE for Distinguished Direction.

Jim Jansen, Kenneth McMillan, Elizabeth Lathram, James Seymour.

Walter Kerr, however, criticized the director for letting an air of “self-pity” intervene in the second half. He also pointed out that a striking feature of the Broadway mounting, a Christmas tree of over 800 stacked milk bottles, was missing. Another change, noted by Simon, was the improved scene-shifting approach that did without a curtain so as to allow the actors themselves to move the props around in dim lighting, doing so rhythmically in ways that commented on their characters. The acting was highly effective, especially in the hands of Richard Cox as Bob Rettie, James Seymour as Mike, Jim Jansen as Cootie, and Kenneth McMillan as Mr. Willis. Few of the actors had the reputations, then or later, of those in the Broadway company (McMillan and Michael Sacks, who played Norman, were probably the best known).


Colleen Dewhurst, Jason Robards, Jr. (Photos: Martha Swope)

A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN [Dramatic Revival] A: Eugene O’Neill; D: Jose Quintero; S/L: Ben Edwards; C: Jane Greenwood; P: Elliot Martin and Lester Osterman Productions; T: Morosco Theatre; 1/29/73-7/13/74; 9/3/74-11/17/74 (313)

Ed Flanders, Jason Robards, Jr., Colleen Dewhurst.

After several depressing outings, director Jose Quintero, whose fame rested largely on his stagings of Eugene O’Neill, made a thrilling comeback with this notable revival of O’Neill’s last play,  A Moon for the Misbegotten, a play that Walter Kerr said “may be O’Neill’s richest work for the theatre.” Clive Barnes noted that this was “a landmark production,” “touching and splendid.” Richard Watts called it “brilliant,” Douglas Watt labeled it “stunning,” and T.E. Kalem rejoiced that “Broadway is a noble word again. Power, beauty, passion and truth command the stage of the Morosco Theatre in [this] unmitigated triumph.”

Colleen Dewhurst, Jason Robards, Jr.

All the right ingredients had been expertly selected and brewed together for this heartfelt drama—completed in 1943 and premiered on Broadway in 1947—about the relationship between the great-sized earth mother Josie Hogan (Colleen Dewhurst), a virginal though seemingly whorish farm girl, and the self-destructive, whore-mongering, booze-corroded James Tyrone, Jr. (Jason Robards, Jr.), a character inspired by O’Neill’s own brother; he's also present in the playwright’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, to which this is considered a sequel

The performances of Dewhurst and Robards, along with Ed Flanders’s rancorously amusing work as the bilious, bibulous Phil Hogan, Josie’s father, and Ben Edwards’s austere yet evocative farmhouse setting, were scrupulously blended under Quintero’s sensitive, electric, and intelligent care to create a revival of memorable stature.

Colleen Dewhurst.

Josie, a hard-to-cast role because of O’Neill’s demand for a very large woman, was tailor-made for the robust, albeit not huge, Dewhurst, whom Kerr called “a beautiful woman giving a beautiful performance.” “She is as lucid and luminous, as unpoeticizingly poetic, as an actress can be in this part,” claimed John Simon, “and always uncloyingly the burning inwardness beneath the brash extroversion.” Robards was similarly honored. His performance marked him as the quintessential O’Neill hero, emotionally scarred and brooding. “Robards gives one of the best O’Neill performances I’ve ever seen,” averred Jack Kroll. “His Jamie is a frayed gentleman, a spoiled poet and polluted idealist.”

Colleen Dewhurst, Edwin J. McDonough.

The loudest objector was Martin Gottfried, who decried the work as a shoddy “commercial package” trading cynically on the reputations of its participants. His attack had little influence on those responsible for the season’s awards, as the production received a special Tony “as an outstanding dramatic revival of a major American play.” Dewhurst snared the Best Actress, Play, Tony, along with a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance. Ed Flanders took home the Tony for Best Supporting Actor, Play, and Robards received a Tony nomination for Best Actor, Play. Jose Quintero won the Tony as Best Director, Play, and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Direction, while Ben Edwards was nominated for a Tony as the Best Lighting Designer Tony.

Ed Flanders, John O'Leary, Colleen Dewhurst.

The roles of Mike Hogan and T. Stedman Harder were played, respectively, by Edwin J. McDonough and John O'Leary. Tom Clancy replaced Ed Flanders during the run.

Tom Clancy, Colleen Dewhurst.


Monday, September 21, 2020

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

Kaye Ballard, Lee Wallace.

MOLLY [Musical/Business/Family/Jews/Period] B: Louis Garfinkle and Leonard Adelson; M: Jerry Livingston; LY: Leonard Adelson and Mack David; SC: Gertrude Berg’s radio and TV series, “The Goldbergs”; D: Alan Arkin; CH: Grover Dale; S: Marsha L. Eck; C: Carrie F. Robbins; L: Jules Fisher; P: Don Saxon, Don Kaufman and George Daley i/a/w Complex IV; T: Alvin Theatre; 11/1/73-12/29/73 (68)

Eli Mintz, Lisa Rochelle.

“The Goldbergs” was one of radio and, later, TV’s, most endearing weekly sitcoms, from 1929 through 1954. Its creator and star, Gertrude Berg, established in its chief character, Molly Goldberg, the quintessential picture of a wise, warmhearted, New York Jewish mother. A Broadway play by Mrs. Berg, Me and Molly, had run for 156 performances in 1948, and was partly responsible for the material in this unsuccessful musical.

Set in the Bronx during the deep Depression year of 1933, it chronicles the family’s business problems. The husband, Jake (Ed Koch lookalike Lee Wallace), is torn between remaining in New York, where he has been laid off from his garment center job, and moving to California to become a fruit grower. The romantic dilemma of the son, Sammy (Daniel Fortus), forms another plot line. Seeing to it that all works out well is Molly (Kaye Ballard), the indomitable, sentimental, philosophical matriarch.

Song titles include "There's a New Deal on the Way," "If Everyone Got What They Wanted," "Sullivan's Got a Job," "There's Gold on the Trees," "The Mandarin Palace on the Grand Concourse," "The Tremont Avenue Cruisewear Fashion Show," and "I've Got a Molly," among others.

Swen Swenson, Connie Day.

“[S]o thin” was the book, complained Clive Barnes, that it should have been “called a magazine.” Neither music, lyrics, nor choreography were inventive enough to help a capable cast (including Eli Mintz, the original Uncle David) from being laid off within two months. The company was led by the catastrophically miscast Kaye Ballard, daughter of Italian immigrants, who was unable to muster even a bissel of Molly’s Jewishness. John Simon thought the “boring” show a “soggy, limp, runny” mess, and Brendan Gill called it “atrocious,” “one of the ugliest shows ever to reach Broadway.”

Cast members included Swen Swenson, Connie Day, Lisa Rochelle, Justine Johnston, Toni Darnay, and Camila Ashland, among many others. 


Mary Alice, Albert Hall.

“MISS JULIE” and “THE DEATH OF LORD CHATTERLY” [Dramatic Revival] D: Henry Pillsbury; S: Holmes Easley; C: Carol M. Gersten; L: Barry Arnold; M: Philip Rosenberg; P: Roundabout Theatre Company; T: Roundabout Theatre (OB); 7/31/73-8/12/73 (16)

“Miss Julie” A: August Strindberg; AD: Henry Pillsbury; “The Death of Lord Chatterly: A: Christopher Frank; TR: Henry Pillsbury

Strindberg’s classic one-acter, “Miss Julie,” about Miss Julie (Linda Carlson), a wealthy, neurotic young woman and her illicit relationship with an attractive male servant, Jean (Albert Hall), was here transplanted to an American Southern setting, with Julie portrayed as a plantation owner’s daughter, and black performers playing Christine (Mary Alice) and Jean. The result, said Howard Thompson, was “none too convincing.” There was now “too stark and obvious” a “psychological clash between Jean and Julie, because of the miscegenation idea. Mary Alice’s supporting performance was the best-played of the three. She would, of course, go on to a distinguished career.

The second piece, a short French farce, was an “amusingly bland” trifle about a butler and his mistress, whose husband is dying offstage. It starred Philip Campanella and Linda Carlson. 

Sunday, September 20, 2020

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


Diana Rigg, Alec McCowen.

THE MISANTHROPE [Dramatic Revival] A: Molière; D: Tony Harrison; D: John Dexter; DS: Tania Moiseiwitsch; L: Andy Phillips; D: David Merrick and the John F Kennedy Center in the National Theatre of Great Britain Production; T: St. James Theatre; 3/12/75-5/31/75 (94)

Diana Rigg, Gawn Grainger, Alec McCowen, Louie Ramsay.

Two years after its London opening, the National Theatre of Great Britain’s highly commended, controversial staging of Molière’s 1666 comedy-drama about a man who cannot abide hypocrisy was brought to Broadway with Alec McCowen and Diana Rigg (RIP) as Alceste and Celimene. The critics were intrigued, but not especially overjoyed by Tony Harrison’s adaptation, which placed the action in a 1966 Paris salon amid a France ruled by Gaullist policies. To heighten the contemporary feeling, Harrison added references to De Gaulle, Malraux, the Prix Goncourt, and so forth, as well as some 1960ish linguistic expressions. 

None of this seemed to bother certain reviewers, however. T.E. Kalem said the revision “does not seem to affect The Misanthrope one way or the other.” Clive Barnes declared the “idea . . . cute and original. . . . The time change works surprisingly well.” Not everyone felt likewise, however.

John Simon found the updating a “clever conceit,” but a jarring one, for he saw no reason to take a perfect play and give it a pertinence other than what already was present in its “timeless truths.” Brendan Gill argued that the switch in time made characters like Philinte and Celimene seem out of place. “[T]he plot, kept intact, is implausible in modern times,” argued Martin Gottfried. “Would an amateur poet [Oronte (Gawn Grainger)] really cause serious trouble for a celebrated writer who insulted him?”

Critical dissension marked various other choices. Some enjoyed the translation’s rhymed couplets, others were pained by the sing-song effect of speaking them. Even the choice of rhyme words proved annoying. Disagreement arose over the effectiveness of the costumes, sets, and direction. Few thought the notion of having Philinte (Robert Eddison), Acaste (Nicholas Clay), and Clitandre (Albert Roffrano) played effeminately was wise.

McCowen’s Alceste was widely admired, but also widely questioned. Barnes was ecstatic about his “wickedly pompous and egotistical” character, the way the actor “superbly calculated, weighed and measured his effects,” and his manner of clipping his “couplets with daring pauses, gestures to chairs or the empty air.” To Martin Gottfried, thought, McCowen was guilty of “acting all over the place.” Diana Rigg elicited strong encomiums, like this from Edwin Wilson: “A lithe, vivacious woman, Miss Rigg amply demonstrates why Celimene is irresistible. She moves about the stage in ineffable grace, and she has a laugh which begins somewhere deep inside her and bubbles smartly to the surface like a newly opened bottle of champagne.”

Consequently, Rigg received a Tony nomination for Best Actress, Play. Tanya Moiseiwitsch also received a nomination, hers for Best Scenic Design. 


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


Hugh Franklin, Ruth Warrick.

MISALLIANCE [Dramatic Revival] A: George Bernard Shaw; D: Gene Feist; S: Holmes Easley; C: Mimi Maxmen; L: Robert Murphy; P: Roundabout Repertory Company; T: Roundabout Theatre (OB); 3/28/72-4/30/72 (40)

Tom V.V. Tammi, Philip Campanella, Christine Sumerfield.

Cramped into the tiny Roundabout space in the basement of a Chelsea supermarket, Shaw’s comedy was unable to spread its wings and fly. The acting was merely ordinary—“a good amateur try,” said Walter Kerr. Despite its obvious lack of comedic values, Mel Gussow, for one, thought this Misalliance mustered enough interest to pass as a “respectful, uncluttered production,” and noted “Partisans of Shaw should be interested.”

The cast, many of them Roundabout regulars, included Tom V.V. Tammi as Joey Percival, Hugh Franklin as John Tarleton, Elizabeth Owen as Lina Szczepanowska, Philip Campanella as Gunner, Lou Trapani as Bentley Summerhays, Ruth Warrick as Mrs. John Tarleton, Christine Sumerfield as Hypatia Tarleton, and Fred Stuthman as Lord Summerhays.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

351. A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM (2 revivals). From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975


Sara Kestelman, Alan Howard.

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM [Dramatic Revival] A: William Shakespeare; D: Peter Brook; S/C: Sally Jacobs; L: Lloyd Burlingame; M: Richard Peaslee; P: David Merrick Arts Foundation in the Royal Shakespeare Company Stratford-upon-Avon Production; T: Billy Rose Theatre; 1/20/71-3/13/71 (62); Brooklyn Academy of Music (OB); 3/16/71-3/27/71 (16: total: 78)

Ralph Cotterill, Celia Quicke, Sara Kestelman, Hugh Keays Byrne/ 

The early 70s birthed two A-level revivals of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the first being one of the most acclaimed Shakespeare revivals of modern times. This was Peter Brook’s revolutionary interpretation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, brought to New York in its original Royal Shakespeare Company version/ It generated a considerable degree of critical attention, mostly, but not entirely, positive.

The physical trappings were completely unlike the conventional romantic woodland environment associated with the Dream. Instead, Sally Jacobs’s set was a stark white box, resembling a squash court (or asylum, to John Simon), with several narrow black ladders leading from the stage floor to the overhead platforming atop the walls from which the fairies and musicians could observe the action below.

White lighting made the effect even more strikingly bright. Costumes were vaguely suggestive of contemporary “mod” styles, being made largely of brightly colored satins, with tie-dyed shirts and blouses for the lovers. Cushions were strewn on the floor, trees were created by having the overhead fairies dangle large coiled wire props from fishing pole-like handles, actors sat on and swung from trapezes, circus techniques like spinning disks on slender rods were introduced, and, taking a cue from au courant Polish critic Jan Kott’s understanding of the play as an expression of a darkly pulsating repressed eroticism, phallic gestures and hints of bestiality were scattered about.

Alan Howard, Sara Kestelman, David Waller, John Kane.

Bottom wore no traditional ass’s head, but instead a clown’s black, spherical nose, ass’s ears, and hoof-like clogs to effect his transformation. An atmosphere of circus foolery, magic, and acrobatics suffused the show. Notwithstanding, the dialogue was delivered in conventional Shakespearean tones.

Panegyrics ranged from Clive Barnes’s breathless “This is without equivocation whatsoever the greatest production of Shakespeare I have ever seen in my life,” to Jack Kroll’s affirmation that this was “one of the most beautiful Shakespearean productions of our lifetime.” “[A] work of theatrical genius,” sang John J. O’Connor, while Martin Gottfried harmonized that it was “a great show and a major theatrical event.”

The acting and décor came in for a great share in the feast of hyperbole being spread about so freely. Be that as it may, several critics did point to disturbing features, and a few others were reluctant to find anything at all to praise. A serious bone of contention was that, given the undisputed talent of Brook at brewing up a cauldron of unusual conceptions, the reasons for his interpolations often remained vague or simply ill-judged.

Douglas Watt was convinced the show was tricked out with too many clever notions, that they were self-conscious, destructive of the play’s poetic lyricism, and excessively coarse and broad. Harold Clurman had no quarrel with Brook’s concoctions, but seriously questioned his literary insights. He also denied that the actors’ speech was consistently clear or interesting. Brendan Gill decried the players’ physical unattractiveness, and found that the clouded motives of the staging left him “exhausted” and his mind “exacerbated.” Walter Kerr did not grasp Brook’s purposes; though he often accepted the ideas as amusing, he could not bring himself to substitute them for the playwright’s. He added that the dialogue was rushed, the comedy rough, the intellectual aspects blunted, the troupe devoid of personality, and the direction intrusive. And John Simon claimed that such “injudicious experimentation” was dangerous in the theatre, and that, “Alas, a Brook for a Shakespeare is not a fair exchange.”

Cavils aside, the production earned an Outer Circle Award for Outstanding Production, a Drama Desk Award for Brook’s Outstanding Direction, a Tony for Best Director, Play, a Variety Poll nod for Best Direction, a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Scenic Designer, and a Tony nomination for Best Scenic Design.

Ralph Cotterill, John York, Celia Quicke, Sara Kestelman.

Brook’s cast—with several names still lighting up stages and screens—included Alan Howard as Theseus/Oberon, Sara Kestelman as Hippolyta/Titania, John Kane as Philostrate/Puck, Philip Locke as Egeus/Quince, David Waller as Bottom, Patrick Stewart as Snout, Mary Rutherford as Hermia, Terence Taplin as Lysander, Frances De La Tour as Helena, and Ben Kingsley as Demetrius.


D: Edward Berkeley; MS: Donald Saddler; DS: Santo Loquasto; L: Jennifer Tipton; M: William Pen; P: New York Shakespeare Festival Lincoln Center; T: Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre (OB); 1/19/75-3/16/75 (62)

George Hearn, Kathleen Widdoes.

Edward Berkeley’s “youthful, frolicsome approach,” as Mel Gussow called it, to the Dream met with glowing approval, sneering disapproval, and a case or two of critical fence-sitting. Berkeley had chosen to stress the elements of broad humor in this romantic comedy by giving his players their head and allowing them to have as much fun as he hoped the audience would gain from watching them. “It gives raw enthusiasm a break,” smiled Christopher Sharp.

Michael Sacks, Toni Wein, Richard Gere, Lucy Lee Flippen.

Santo Loquasto’s spare setting consisted chiefly of several tall, slender aluminum poles topped by electrically lit globes that could move down the poles to suggest a relocation in space. Douglas Watt thought it looked “stylish and pleasingly romantic,” but Clive Barnes kept thinking it resembled Washington Square Park. John Beaufort said he was reminded of “a mod apartment house lobby.” The costumes, except for some modish touches—tight black slacks for Titania (Kathleen Widdoes), for example—were in period.

Edward Hermann, Roberts Blossom, Richard Ramos.

Berkeley’s farce concept led to much rambunctious behavior among the magically confused lovers. The Pyramus and Thisbe scene had all the stops pulled out. Puck (Larry Marshall) was played by a black actor with all the sass of an urban street kid. Helena (Lucy Lee Flippen) chattered in baby talk, and Bottom (Richard Ramos) was what Barnes dubbed “the hammiest of ham actors.”

Douglas Watt wrote that the revival “presents so pretty a picture and has such an affectionate nature that one is inclined to overlook the occasional stiff readings.” He was not equally pleased by all the performances, but neither were his colleagues, nearly all of whom noted various discrepancies in the casting. Very few of the actors could speak the lines clearly and with deep understanding. Among those actors were Marlene Warfield as Hippolyta, Jack Davidson as Egeus, Michael Sacks as Lysander, Richard Gere as Demetrius (yes, Richard Gere), Toni Wein as Hermia, Roberts Blossom as Snout, Edward Hermann as Flute, and George Hearn as Oberon.

Tim Michaels, Arthur DeLorenzo, Stephen Austin,Gwendolyn Smith, Kathleen Widdoes.

This Dream was “an earthbound affair” to Beaufort, and John Simon deemed it a “disaster” for having cut out one-third of the play to replace the poetry with “oodles of horseplay.” Yet Martin Gottfried argued that the show was Shakespeare’s play as Shakespeare wrote it, a “faithfully” sublime rendering that came off as “perfectly delicious,” and “one of the truest and most enchanting productions of the play I have ever seen.”

Friday, September 18, 2020



Barnard Hughes.

THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR [Dramatic Revival] A: William Shakespeare; D: David Margulies; CH: Donald Saddler; C: Carrie F. Robbins; L: Martin Aronstein; M: Robert Dennis; P: New York Shakespeare Festival; T: Delacorte Theatre (OB); 7/25/74-8/25/74 (24)

“[A] notably tedious production” is how Julius Novick described this unhappy Central Park presentation of Shakespeare’s comedy about the fat knight, Sir John Falstaff (Barnard Hughes), a work the Bard wrote for strictly commercial reasons. It remains far down on the list of lifetime achievements. Few critics thought the play itself any great shakes; none were very pleased with the uninspired production of David Margulies, better known as an actor than a director.

Novick thought Margulies and company were unable to detect whatever comic qualities the play possessed. In addition to the usually capable Hughes, such talents as Tom Toner as Justice Shallow, Marcia Rodd as Mistress Page, Cynthia Harris as Mistress Ford, Joseph Bova as Frank Ford, and Marilyn Sokol as Mistress Quickly struggled to breathe life into this potboiler. 

Aside from a few minor exceptions, the remainder of the company, which included distinguished actors Michael Tucker, George Hearn, Lenny Baker, Kenneth McMillan, Danny DeVito (Danny DeVito!?), and others, was notably ill at ease. Novick thought the overall tone was “dull,” while Mel Gussow said the acting was unsteady, regretted that choreographer Donald Saddler had provided only one “faintly” dancelike scene, and questioned why the play was done if it were not somehow going to be transformed

Thursday, September 17, 2020

349. MERT AND PHIL. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Marilyn Roberts, Estelle Parsons, Rhoda Gemignani.

MERT AND PHIL [Comedy-Drama/Illness/Marriage/Sex/Women] A: aAnne Burr; D: Joseph Papp; S: Santo Loquasto; C: Theoni V. Aldredge; L: Martin Aronstein; P: New York Shakespeare Festival; T: Vivian Beaumont Theatre; 10/30/74-12/8/74 (41)

Marilyn Roberts, Estelle Parsons, Norman Ornellas, Beverly McKinsey, Michael Lombard.

A confused attempt to blend outrageous farce with painful subject matter that had Clive Barnes writhing in his “seat at both its coarseness and ineptitude.” It treats the domestic miseries of a lower middle-class married couple, Mert (Estelle Parsons) and Phil (Michael Lombard), following Mert’s mastectomy. The action concerns the ever more wretched state of the couple’s relationship in the wake of Mert’s traumatic operation. Unable to face the loss of sexual attractiveness represented by the loss of a breast, Mert grows increasingly despondent and alcoholic. Phil, a truck driver, fails in his attempts to provide consolation. I

Throughout, exaggerated comic characters intrude, including Mert’s senile old mother (Marilyn Roberts), who goes around in roller skates and a  headset and puts on a crash helmet so Mert can bop her over the head with a huge mallet. There is also a pair of visiting friends (Norman Ornellas and Rhoda Gemignani), the husband always lunging for his wife’s crotch.

The sordid air was unrelieved by the bizarre farcical intrusions. Barnes, for one, accused Mert and Phil of being “terrible,” “tasteless,” and “totally unconvincing.” Parsons and Lombard were excellent, but Anne Burr’s play, statically directed by producer Joseph Papp—of whom Walter Kerr said: “Mr. Parr is not an imaginative director”—displeased nearly everyone for its dreadful writing and dreary people. Of the latter, Brendan Gill avowed that “they are dead souls inside dying bodies.”

Mert and Phil was one of the plays produced during Papp’s reign at Lincoln Center on behalf of the Public Theater, and, along with a few other Papp choices, was considered one reason for the fairly rapid demise of his tenure there, since such plays were anathema to that venue’s typical audience. Lighting designer Martin Aronstein says in Kenneth Turan and Papp’s book (posthumous on the latter's behalf), Free for All, that it “was one of the worst things that I’ve experienced in my entire life. It made absolutely no sense doing those plays in that theater.” And star Estelle Parsons commented, “I think it was an extraordinary play, but the language was very rough, the truthfulness of it . . . was very rough, a little too honest for your upper-middle-class white Lincoln Center audiences. I thought it was much too strong to do in a subsidized theater.”