Saturday, February 27, 2021

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 From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Kathryn Walker, Margo Ann Berdeshevsky, Roberta Maxwell.
SLAG [Comedy-Drama/British/Homosexuality/Politics/Women] A: David Hare; D: Roger Hendricks Simon; S: Daisy Page Pickman; C: Milo Morrow; L: Robert Kellogg; P: New York Shakespeare Festival; T: Public Theater/Other Stage (OB); 2/21/71-3/21/71 (32)

David Hare, who became one England’s most respected dramatists, was only 23 when Slag made its New York debut. It presents three teachers at Brackenhurst, an upper-class girl’s school on the skids with less than a dozen students still enrolled. The neurotic anxieties of the three are played off against each other; two, Elise (Margo Ann Berdeshevsky) and Ann (Kathryn Walker), appear to have lesbian tendencies, while the third, Joanne (Roberta Maxwell), the headmistress, is a rabid feminist. Their dialogue is often cast in long, rhetorical speeches, which sparked charges of overwriting and verbosity.  Fortunately, the burden was lightened by numerous stingingly comic remarks.

The critics reacted cautiously, most feeling Hare showed promise, but considering his play vague. Clive Barnes averred that it was filled “with more ideas than his thought can handle.” A variety of topical targets were aimed at, especially the political state of England, the title itself suggesting the residue of the past on which the nation was standing.

Edith Oliver laughed at Hare’s “eccentric notions, . . . funny lines, [and] wry outlook.” Walter Kerr may have found Slag “quite the dullest evening in town,” but Harold Clurman said, “the impression made, besides that of political muddle, is one of frenzy, verbose confusion of mind and spirit, a considerable gift for acid humor, and above all, roiling impotence.”

Canadian-born Roberta Maxwell got top honors in this well-acted production. Barnes enthused, “Such a good actress, restrained when she could have been strident, impassioned when she could have been petulant, the shining Miss Maxwell is a joy in a role that could have been written for her.” Her performance was honored with a Drama Desk Award.