Wednesday, November 18, 2020

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 From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975.

Alix Elias, Sam Schacht, Martin Shakar.
OWNERS [Comedy/British/Business/Crime/Marriage/Sex] A: Caryl Churchill; D/P: Terese Hayden; S: Fred Koulouch; T: Mercer-Shaw Theatre (OB); 5/14/73-5/15/73 (2)

Caryl Churchill’s first play, first produced in 1972 in the Theatre Upstairs at London’s Royal Court Theatre, was this episodic black comedy set among working-class people in a North London housing development. With overtones of Joe Orton and N.F. Simpson, the play is written in an absurdist comic book style.

It concerns Marion (Jacqueline Brooks), wife of a poor butcher named Clegg (Stefan Gierasch), who makes a bundle as a ruthless real estate speculator. With the help of her lieutenant, Worsely (Martin Shakar), she uses her terrible new economic power to grab what she can, including adopting the baby of her lover, Alec (Sam Schacht), which she manages to do by duping the lover’s pregnant wife, Lisa (Alix Elias). In the end, she must face the woman’s hysterical efforts to take back what she has been tricked into selling.

The play’s poor production was “a foggy mess,” asserted Edith Oliver, who mostly blamed the confused script. Clive Barnes thought the play was “trying to be about possession—the possession of physical property and the possession of people.” He panned the “sluggish performance,” and “unduly labored” acting, concluding, “Absurdity needs to have its roots in reality in order to be dramatically viable,

Later revivals, it should be noted, like Evan Yionoulis's 2013 staging at the Yale Repertory Theatre, have been more successful as both entertainment and social commentary.