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 From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975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