Tuesday, September 1, 2020

318. LOOK AWAY. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Geraldine Page, Maya Angelou.

LOOK AWAY [Drama/Biographical/Hospital/Mental Illness/Period/Political] A: Jerome Kilty; SC: Justin G. Turner and Linda Levitt Turner’s book, Mary Todd Lincoln: Her Life and Letters; D: Rip Torn; S/L: Ben Edwards; C: Jane Greenwood; P: Charles B. Bloch i/a/w Burry Fredrik; T: Playhouse Theatre; 1/7/73 (1)

Geraldine Page.

In a season that included three Mary Todd Lincoln plays (the others were The Lincoln Mask, with Eva Marie Saint, and The Last of Mrs. Lincoln, starring Julie Harris), it was likely that the critics would grow restless at seeing yet another treatment of her life. Such was the response generated by this weak Jerome Kilty drama set in 1875 about Mrs. Lincoln’s last night at an Illinois mental institution where she had been confined for nine months by her son, Robert. Having been granted a release upon demonstrating her competence, Mrs. Lincoln (Geraldine Page) reminisces about the past with her faithful Black friend and seamstress, Elizabeth Keckley (Maya Angelou), as they move about among 62 crates of Mrs. Lincoln’s belongings.

The play suffered from an excessive concern with past action and very little with the present. It failed to satisfactorily dramatize Mrs. Lincoln’s behavior, consequently becoming “too literary” and biographical, and not theatrically interesting, said Clive Barnes. Page’s performance of the bitter, high-strung heroine was “very fine indeed,” he said, but, to Douglas Watt, it was “annoyingly” marred by her “fidgety actions and impulsive speech patterns." Angelou, whose character had very little actual dialogue with Mrs. Lincoln (monologues dominated the action), performed with dignity and reserve. Despite the play's being closed after just one performance, Angelou was good enough to earn a Tony nomination as Best Supporting Actress, Play.