|Richard Venture. (Photos: William L. Smith)|
“Solitaire” [Science-Fiction/Sex]; “Double Solitaire” [Marriage/Sex]
|Will Fenno, Richard Venture, Patricia Pearcy.|
Previously staged at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre and at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland, these two one-acts by a respected dramatist (Tea and Sympathy, for one) generated little excitement on Broadway. Some, like Harold Clurman, thought them Robert Anderson’s “weakest work.” Though “thoughtful and provocative,” according to Richard Watts, they were, concluded Douglas Watt, “[A] pair of cheerless” plays. Feeling likewise was Martin Gottfried, who deemed the plays “irrelevant.”
The curtain raiser, “Solitaire,” is set in a Huxley-Orwellian automated future where human communication is limited to impersonal means, where love and sex as humans have known them do not exist (sperm banks are compulsory), and where a man may purchase from whorehouse equivalents the illegal pleasure of hiring an illusory family unit for an evening of old-time togetherness, sans sexual relations. The central figure, Sam Bradley (Richard Venture), earns his living by recording books for the coming illiterate generations. A widower with memories of happier days, he chooses to spend an evening in such simulated company before he dies.
This futuristic vision offered “no fresh insights,” insisted Clurman: “It does not startle, depress, excite, or amuse.” Aware of the play's faults, Julius Novick nonetheless pointed to its being “clever and well made” and its “few moments of real poignance.”
The stronger piece, “Double Solitaire,” is about contemporary married life. It seemed to Watts more like “a symposium on marriage than a dramatic treatment of its pros and cons.” Walter Kerr admired Anderson’s veracity, but was unhappy with his failure to take a stance or attitude toward the material that would illuminate the characters and ideas. “There is something limited about his insights,” put in Novick; “ordinariness is not only his strength but also his weakness. . . . I think of him as the good gray playwright.”
“Double Solitaire” concerns two couples confronted by failing marriages. O ne couple, the Potters (Ruth Nelson and John Cromwell), has been together for 50 years; the other, their son, Charley (Richard Venture), and daughter-in-law, Barbara (Joyce Ebert), for 23. A third pair, the son of the younger couple (Will Fenno) and his live-in girlfriend (Martha Schlamme), are also introduced. The central conflict is about the middle-aged pair and the state of their romantic and sexual feelings for one another.
The characters were too self-analytical, complained Clurman, and tiresome. There was little here above the level of “your average TV talk show,” claimed John Simon. But Clive Barnes, despite being annoyed by the “too glib” writing, said Anderson “seems to hit harder and truer than he has ever done.”
|Joyce Ebert, Richard Venture.|
On the whole, the acting was expert, with extra fine work turned in by Venture, Cromwell, and Ebert. Patricia Pearcy and William Swetland were also in the cast.