Sunday, October 18, 2020

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 From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

 Chandler Hill Harben, Jeremy Stockwell, Lester Rawlins.
NIGHTRIDE [Drama/Alcoholism/Homosexuality/Theatre] A: Lee Barton; D: Milton Lyon; S: Alan Kimmel; C: Katrin; L: Ken Billington; P: Bill Shirley; T: Vandam Theatre (OB); 12/9/71-2/27/72 (94)

Chandler Hill Harben, Jeremy Stockwell.

The 1970s were a decade in which gay people were more openly declarative of their sexual inclinations than at any previous period in modern history. Some, however, continued to fear repressive measures if they chose to “come out of the closet.” “Lee Barton,” the pseudonymous author of Nightride was such a one, a man who was unprepared to face the social opprobrium he knew would greet him among friends and business acquaintances if he were to reveal his sexual nature. He called for other hidden gay artists to stand to stand up for gays, so that men such as he would not feel so threatened professionally for their sexuality..

In Nightride, he treated, somewhat melodramatically, the quandary of a renowned middle-aged playwright, Jon Bristow (Lester Rawlins), a man saddled with the burden of homosexuality—as per the playwright’s perspective—as well as alcoholism. Jon's career is running at low gear in the face of an ever-deteriorating artistic output. He is visited in his Puerto Rican home, where he lives with his lover, Peter (Jeremy Stockwell), by a gay rock star, Jab Humble (Chandler Hill Harben), who wants Jon to use as lyrics some revealing poetry written years earlier about a love affair between Jon and a young man. To the singer, the exposure of these poems will strengthen the gay cause, but the offer doesn’t appeal to the playwright, who wishes to remain in the closet.

The theme had interest for various critics, such as Clive Barnes, for whom it was “a serious play about homosexual life that makes no apologies and reveals no regrets.” But he also pointed out that the work took “a simplistic attitude” toward its material, and was flawed in several areas. Dick Brukenfeld thought it occasionally quite honest, but conceded that “the play proceeds more as argument than as experience, more as soap opera than as drama.” He said it too closely resembled the “muddy, ideological melodramas” of the old Broadway stage.

Lester Rawlins as Jon Bristow was widely praised. Barnes wrote, “Mr. Rawlins provides a magnificently rich and controlled interpretation. . . . [H]e weaves his way through all the false thickets of his part and all the phony confusions of his style to offer a performance that is both honest and poetic.” Rawlins won a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance for his efforts.