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 From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975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