Monday, October 5, 2020

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 From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Shami Chaikin, Rod Browning, Tom Brannum (plaid jacket), Cynthia Harris, Judd Hirsch, Rick Friesen, Donald Warfield, Nancy Charney.

[Comedy/Crime/Homosexuality/Mystery/Politics] A: Jean-Claude van Itallie; D: Jacques Levy; S: Philip Gilliam; C: Patricia McGourty; L: Judy Rasmusson; P: J. Craig Owens; T: Cherry Lane Theatre (OB); 1/3/73-1/14/73 (14)

A would-be farce that failed to tickle any critical funny bones and was quickly relegated to the theatrical refuse heap. A couple of soon-to-be famous actors were involved in the debacle. Overwritten and of vague intent, it was about the characters at a Washington, D.C., cocktail party, among whom are a senator (Judd Hirsch), his wife (Cynthia Harris), their bisexual, schizophrenic son (played by two actors, Rick Frieson and Donald Warfield), a professor (Tom Brannum), an attractive young woman (Nancy Charney), a butler (Rod Browning), and a mystery writer (Shami Chaikin). The latter talks to the audience and acts as a sort of MC for a plot that involves the inevitable demise of most of the other characters.

It was not clear whether the comedy was satirizing mystery plays or politics. Despite a few laugh-worthy moments, the play was “aimless,” in Edith Oliver’s view, “as brittle as thin ice” and “very cold” to Mel Gussow. John Simon said it was simply “nonexistent.”