Monday, March 15, 2021

500. STATUS QUO VADIS. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Today’s posting marks the 500th in this series since it began in the early days of the pandemic. At first, I often posted two shows a day but other obligations soon forced me to cut back to one. Quite a number of readers, noting the word “unpublished” in the series title, have supported the idea of my having the material published. I have usually replied, giving the background to how the project began. For anyone actually interested, I direct them to one of the early postings, where, for a time, I regularly explained the genesis of the series.

Gail Strickland, Bruce Boxleitner.

STATUS QUO VADIS [Comedy/Fantasy/Literature/Romance/Sex] A/D: Donald Driver; S: Edward Burbridge; C: David Toser; L: Thomas Skelton; P: George Keathley and Jack Lenny; T: Brooks Atkinson Theatre; 2/18/73 (1)
Gail Strickland, Bruce Boxleitner.

Yet another in the long list of one-performance flops of the early 1970s, Status Quo Vadis tells a conventional morality story about American class relationships but does so in an unconventional, pseudo-avant garde style.

Satirical thrusts at unions, religion, big business, censorship, and other topics are incorporated in this allegorical black comedy about Horace Elgin (Bruce Boxleitner), a rough-edged, lower-class, Candide-like, young poet. He's a high school dropout, who beds down and impregnates his upper-class, night-school teacher, Irene Phillips (Gail Srrickland). He also faces right-wing censorship of his book of explicitly erotic poems, an attempt by his company to hold back his promotion, and pressure to give up his wealthy girlfriend for a secretary from a less respectable background.

To emphasize the author’s cynical point that “Equality has become our inalienable right to be equal with the people above so we need not be equal with people below,” each character wears a number signifying his class determination. The heiress teacher is a #1, the poet a #5, the secretary a #3.

Edward Burbridge’s abstract, yellow, wooden setting, provided with multiple doors, was designed so that all set pieces could be formed by elements constituting the unified scenic background. The effect contributed to the dehumanized fantasy's atmosphere.

The show, which originated at a small theatre in Chicago, garnered mixed reviews, but their general tenor was too bland to excite interest. Richard Watts was “often irritated but more often impressed” by it. Those who failed to support it commented on its blurred themes and contrived, heavy-handed treatment. To Mel Gussow, it was “amateurish, shallow, obvious and ultimately tasteless.”

Boxleitner and Strickland were accorded respectable notices. Strickland, in fact, received a Drama Desk Award for Most Promising Performer, even though one has to wonder how many Drama Desk voters actually saw either the single regular performance or one of the six previews.

Other actors involved included in the 18-member cast included John C. Becher, Roberts Blossom, Geraldine Kay, Lee Zara, and a newcomer named Ted Danson in the role of Paul Regents III (the actor’s real name, by the way, is Edward Bridge Danson III). Gussow, with a touch of Nostradamus, wrote: “Ted Danson made a convincingly successful bartender.”