Tuesday, October 13, 2020

348. NELLIE TOOLE & CO. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Sylvia Miles, Stefan Gierasch, Vincent Bagetta.

 [Comedy-Drama/Barroom/Mystery] A: Peter Keveson; D: Jeremiah Morris; S: Hal Tine; C: Walter Florell; L: Spencer Mosse; P: Sally Sears and Primavera Productions, Ltd., i/a/w Richard Dulaney; T: Theatre Four (OB); 9/24/73-10/21/73 (32)

An atmospheric thriller, set in a Second Avenue bar, where Moke (Stefan Gierasch), a seedy, middle-aged man, goes to answer a New York Times want ad. He ends up working for Nellie Toole (Sylvia Miles), a loud and flashy advertising woman. Nellie uses Moke to play-act various roles as she reenacts situations she has experienced with people in her past whom, it is suggested, she may have killed. The game-playing sequences are often in the vein of camp humor, and there are references to nostalgic facts regarding Hollywood films and actors of the 40s. Nellie uses the role-playing device as a sort of self-analytical way of relieving herself of guilt feelings.

The play, originally done in Cologne, West Germany, was not appreciated by the press. Clive Barnes enjoyed a few scattered moments and praised the work of Gierasch and Miles as “mannered but rewarding,” but most others found nothing at all to their taste. Brendan Gill called it “a miserable evening,” and John Simon did a violent hatchet job on both the play (“insufferably pretentious, mindless and inept”) and Miles (“better known as one of New York’s leading party girls and gate-crashers”).

His comments came back to haunt him when, in one of the most notorious rebuttals of a critic by one of his victims in New York annals, Miles rewarded Simon at a party by dumping a plate of food on his head. The Times recalled the event in Simon’s obituary: “This incident was so welcomed by the Simon-hating press that the anecdote has been much retold,” Mr. Simon recalled. “She herself has retold it a thousand times. And this steak tartare has since metamorphosed into every known dish from lasagna to chop suey. It’s been so many things that you could feed the starving orphans of India or China with it.”