Sunday, February 21, 2021


Jack Somack, Jake Dengel.
THE SHRINKING BRIDE [Comedy/Business/Family/Jews/Romance] A: Jonathan Levy; D: Marvin Gordon; S: T.E. Mason; C: Joseph G. Aulisi; L: Molly Friedel; M: William Bolcom; LY: Jonathan Levy; P: Tony Capodilupo and John Fink; T: Mercury Theatre (OB); 1/17/71 (1)

A here-today, gone-tomorrow turkey billed as a “comedy with songs.” It was a zany near-musical farce about a wild bunch of characters, with a plot focusing on a very wealthy businessman named Cates, nĂ© Katz (Jack Somack), who is thinking of changing his name again, to Plantagenet. Cates has built his empire from his start as a Lower East Side pushcart peddler. He now resides in an ostentatiously vulgar, ersatz Hudson River castle named Tantamount Hall, where he hopes to shed his Jewish identity and mingle with snobbish WASP society.

His elder daughter (Louisa Flaningam) is to be married to a rich, upper-class young Brit named Delano Quince (Jake Dengel), but is such a shrinking violet she is forever fainting or hiding under a bear rug. Another daughter (Diane Simkin) is pregnant by the lecherous stable boy (Danny DeVito), who is studying in night school to be a butcher (he’s first in his class in lamb chops). Irritants are provided by the first daughter’s ex-husband (John Pleshette), a hippie artist, and Cate’s cynical brother (Joe Silver), who want him to get his mind off social climbing and back into business.

Martin Gottfried stood alone in defending this as a near-perfect farce, marred only by a too-sudden ending (Mel Gussow thought a third act had been cut off). Otherwise, it was “the funniest play” he had seen in years. Richard Watts concluded that “it would be flattering to call his humor merely infantile,” and Lee Silver termed the play “ridiculous” and hard to believe. Few wished to make the attempt and it closed after a single performance. 

Gussow wrote:

Mr. Levy has attempted to combine several styles and milieus. His play is something of a modern, period farce, and too much of a hybrid to be entirely satisfactory. It is the sort of mildly wild comedy that needs a consistency of vision and a quick pace that would soar right through the complex plot. Instead, as directed by Marvin Gordon, the action is overly busy. The humor arches into whimsy, each character has at least one gimmick and we are often reminded how crazy everything is, as ‘This house is like a zoo.’

Gussow, noting the presence of someone who would be this show’s greatest gift to contemporary entertainment, wrote: “He enters spitting on the estate's swans and telling the girl about real beauty: the N.C.O. club in Fort Lee, Va. He is an oaf, a buffoon, but he is very funny, particularly because of the zany performance by Danny DeVito.”