|Zohra Lampert, Hal Linden.|
|Hal Linden, Zohra Lampert.|
This first New York revival of the late Lorraine Hansberry’s unsuccessful 1964 drama “about idealism, liberalism and not selling‐out,” as Clive Barnes described it, had a powerful cast and a renowned director. Still, it emerged an egregious, five-performance failure. Although containing some strong and theatrically vivid writing, the play’s inherent weaknesses were not assisted by what most critics agreed was a misguided production. Julius Novick wrote that this was “not so much a production as an abortion. The pomposity and clumsiness . . . come through loud and clear; its urgency and sweetness and warmth have been extinguished.”
|William Atherton, Kelly Wood, Hal Linden.|
The story of Sidney's growing up — his disillusionment with fake liberal attitudes and his final determination to face the world on braver, more realistic terms — holds the interest, but unfortunately nothing entirely holds water. Why a sudden tragedy should lead him to reject a reform politician he has just helped with his weekly newspaper to get into Congress is never clearly explained.
Hal Linden was highly appreciated as Sidney, Zohra Lampert hit the bullseye as Iris Parodus Brustein, an aspiring actress, William Atherton excelled as David Ragin, a neurotic gay playwright, John Danelle was intense as a bitter Black revolutionary, Kelly Wood did well as a prostitute, and Frances Sternhagen, as Barnes described her, “was brightly amusing and brave as the oddly sympathetic square sister,” Mavis. She was good enough to garner a Tony nomination for Best Supporting Actress, and to place first in Variety's poll for a similar category. Dolph Sweet and Mason Adams were other well-known cast members.
|Frances Sternhagen, Hal Linden.|
A major part of the problem was the muddled approach taken by the adaptors, one of them Hansberry’s widowed husband. (The play was unfinished when Hansberry died.) There was considerable updating of the language, thereby flattening the 60s’ ambience, and a number of intrusive songs sung by a “Woodstockian” quartet “who come on at intervals to stop the play dead in its untidy tracks,” as Brendan Gill reported. Dressing them in the hip garb of 1972 was another mistake, said some, as it clearly contradicted the period in which the play is set.