Friday, April 30, 2021


Blythe Danner, Martha Henry. Photos: Martha Swope.
TWELFTH NIGHT [Dramatic Revival] A: William Shakespeare; D: Ellis Rabb; S: Douglas W. Schmidt; C: Ann Roth; L: John Gleason; M: Cathy MacDonald; P: Repertory Theatre of Lincoln Center; T: Vivian Beaumont Theatre of Lincoln Center; 3/2/72-4/8/72 (44)

George Pentecost, Rene Auberjonois.

Audiences at Ellis Rabb’s interpretation of Twelfth Night were treated to a sumptuously designed production, one of the most attractive ever seen at the Vivian Beaumont, but the general view was that the décor either outshone the acting and direction or did not serve the play’s needs. Douglas W. Schmidt’s “vast sweeping set that covered the Beaumont’s acres of stage with plush, blue wall-to-wall carpeting,” wrote Martin Gottfried, served instead to stress the theatre’s vast size.

Blythe Danner, Stephen McHattie.

Rabb used the huge revolve to bring actors and set pieces on and off smoothly, but had his players lounging about all over the carpeted floor rather than seated in chairs. The expansive spatial arrangement forced actors to act alone rather than in ensemble, making “each character . . . a lost soul isolated in the contemplative limbo of the poet’s mind,” sighed Henry Hewes.

Words used to describe the general effect were “tiresome” (Edith Oliver), “boredom” (Harold Clurman), “heavy-handed” (Richard Watts), and “slow-moving” (Gottfried). Julius Novick could find no unifying reason for [the production’s] existence,” and Clurman detected “no core of intention, no clear line to hold the play together.”

Company of Twelfth Night.

Miscasting was charged by several, especially John Simon, who could not buy the colorblind casting; he made cutting remarks about the work of Black actors Moses Gunn (Orsino), Cynthia Belgrave (Maria), and Harold Miller (Fabian). The universally appraised gem of the evening was Blythe Danner’s Viola. Her beauty, clarity of speech, and bearing made her presence invigorating; although I usually remain neutral in recording productions I attended, I remember much of her glowing performance even now, half-a-century later. Rene Auberjonois was a very good Malvolio, and there were decent moments in Leonard Frey’s Aguecheek and Martha Henry’s Olivia.

Two or three reviewers professed much pleasure with the revival, including Douglas Watt, who thought it “grand” and “enchanting.” Clive Barnes called it “a charming, magical view of the play,” though lacking in “depth” and “shadows.”

Company members included Robert Christian as Valentine, Sydney Walker as Toby Belch, George Pentecost as Feste, Philip Bosco as Antonio, Stephen McHattie as Sebastian and Ray Fry as Priest. 

Readers of this blog who may be interested in my Theatre's Leiter Side review collections (one with a memoir), covering almost every show of 2012-2014, will find them at by clicking here

Next up: 22 Years.


Thursday, April 29, 2021

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

From the Mayfair Theatre production: Calvin Culver, Jake Everett, Walter Holiday. 

TUBSTRIP [Comedy/Homosexuality/Sex] A: A.J. Kronengold [Jerry Douglas]; D: Doug Richards [Jerry Douglas]; S: May Kenley; Mayfair production: Leo B. Meyer; C: Jim Faber; L: May Kenley; Mayfair production: Edward I. Byers; P: K.G. Productions, Ltd., i/a/w Mark Segal; T: Brecht Theatre (OB); 5/17/73 (100); Players Theatre (OB); 8/14/73-9/16/73 (40); Mayfair Theatre; 10/31//74-11/17/74 (21) 

The Players Theatre company: Richard Rheem, Larry Gilman, Tony Origlio, Jamey Gillis, Richard Livert, Bob Balhatchet (seated), Jake Everett, John Bruce. (Photo: John Bruce.)

This overheated sex farce was running at the Mercer Arts Center's Brecht Theatre when that edifice, located in a venerable Greenwich Village hotel, collapsed in 1973. It spent the months between that production’s demise and its official opening for the critics in this mounting by touring the country to eight cities with, reportedly, successful results. When it returned to New York, with adult film star Casey Donovan (billed as Casey Culver) as bathhouse attendant Brian (first played by Larry Gilman), it played at Broadway's small Mayfair Theatre, but lasted only several weeks. The cast underwent a number of changes during the show's peregrinations.

The mainline critics would have nothing to do with it and it was soon gone in a puff of steam. On the other hand, some in the gay press greeted it with encomiums, arguing that it was an honest, insightful view of the gay men's world, albeit probably not a work that straight audiences would appreciate. 

Tubstrip, like the more successful such play of the half-decade, Steam Bath, is set in a health spa, this one—called “Boy’s Town”—intended for gay, male clients, each of them stereotypically campy. The bathhouse, where nudity is on display, is somewhere they visit to cruise for new hookups. The principal plot circles around the rivalry for Brian's favors from Andy (Walter Holiday), Richie (Tony Origlio), and the closeted, married Bob (Richard Livert). A notable feature of the show was a narrow pool of water that splashed water on theatregoers whenever an actor jumped into it.

After sneering at the writing, acting, and direction, Mel Gussow added, “The stage is slippery and the play is as soggy as a wet towel.”

Reader Jordan Schildcrout has provided this helpful link to more information on Tubstrip.

Readers of this blog who may be interested in my Theatre's Leiter Side review collections (one with a memoir), covering almost every show of 2012-2014, will find them at by clicking here

Next up: Tug of War

Wednesday, April 28, 2021


Jack Hollander, Leonard Frey, Ron Faber. (Photo: Friedman-Abeles.)
TROILUS AND CRESSIDA [Dramatic Revival] A: William Shakespeare; D: David Schweizer; S/C: Paul Zalon; L: Ian Calderon; M: Richard Peaslee; P: New York Shakespeare Festival Lincoln Center; T: Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre (OB); 11/10/73-12/30/73 (57)

Joseph Papp, as the new producer at Lincoln Center following Jules Irving’s departure, used his first season to inaugurate a series of Shakespeare revivals in the smaller of the institution’s two theatres, the Forum, now renamed the Mitzi E. Newhouse. Troilus and Cressida was the initial offering of this unsuccessful venture.

David Schweizer’s production of this somewhat vague comedy failed to clarify its action or themes, and served only to make things foggier. His camped-up interpretation found few supporters. “Rarely can Shakespeare have been less festive than in this excruciating travesty,” barked Clive Barnes, who called it “inept, . . . sophomoric, . . . [and] foolhardy.” A 12-member cast, many playing two roles, acted an unfunny farce interpretation that looked something like a “mid-20th-century strip-cartoon.” This “dull attempt at being daring” caused many to flee at intermission, or even before.

Walter Kerr was incensed by the thoughtless staging, but was particularly concerned about the awful speech of the actors, most of whom seemed “altogether unacquainted with the English language.” William Hickey as Pandarus and Madeleine Le Roux as Cressida, Cassandra, and Helen were among those who came in for especially rough critical handling. Barnes, for example, spewed that  “William Hickey's nasal whining as Pandarus was particularly offensive, and Madeleine Le Roux has a long way to go before she can qualify as even a bad Shakespearean actress.”

There were many notable names involved. Among them were William Hickey as Pandarus, Ron Faber as Nestor and Priam, Jack Hollander as Agamemnon, Leonard Frey as Ulysses, Richard Masur as Menelaus and Ajax, Charles Kimbrough as Thersites, Christopher Walken as Achilles, and Beeson Carrol as Hector.

Readers of this blog who may be interested in my Theatre's Leiter Side review collections (one with a memoir), covering almost every show of 2012-2014, will find them at by clicking here

Next up: Tubstrip




Tuesday, April 27, 2021

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

Randy Herron, Rene Auberjonois, Christopher Murney. 

TRICKS [Musical/Romance] B/D: Jon Jory; M: Jerry Blatt; LY: Lonnie Burstein; SC: Molière’s Les Fourberies de Scapin; CH: Donald Saddler; S: Oliver Smith; C: Miles White; P: Herman Levin; T: Alvin Theatre; 1/8/73-1/13/73 (8)

Rene Auberjonois, Christopher Murney.

A frenetic, unfunny mélange of commedia dell’arte costumes and shtick (pardon me, lazzi) designed to convert an amusing 17th-century French farce by Molière into a Broadway musical. It failed catastrophically to do so with wit, élan, or charm. For some reason, theatremakers of early 70s were mesmerized by this material; between 1970 and 1975 three New York shows were based on it, the other two described here.

Christopher Murney, Walter Bobbie, Rene Auberjonois.

Jon Jory’s heavy-handed, sight-gag crammed treatment of the original, often called in English The Tricks of Scapin, had succeeded at Jory’s home theatre in Kentucky, the Actors Theatre of Louisville, but seemed blatantly provincial on the Main Stem. By the time it opened, its commedia approach had been far more successfully utilized by Bob Fosse’s Pippin, and it all seemed old-hat and second-rate.

/Walter Bobbie, Carolyn Mignini.

The critics pointed to the constant succession of energetic shenanigans and to the would-be tour-de-force of broad acrobatic and comical acting of Rene Auberjonois as the wily servant, Scapin, but they decided there was not enough behind the breathless acting and staging to stimulate much laughter or to keep their minds engaged. Much of the score was sung by a rock quarter backed by an onstage band seated at the rear of Oliver Smith’s bright yellow and orange set. One happy takeaway, however, was a Tony nomination for Miles White, whose delightful period costumes were much appreciated.

Among the cast members were Christopher Murney, Walter Bobbie, Carolyn Mignini, Joe Morton, Tom Toner, and Jo Ann Ogawa.

Readers of this blog who may be interested in my Theatre's Leiter Side review collections (one with a memoir), covering almost every show of 2012-2014, will find it at by clicking here

Next up: Troilus and Cressida

Monday, April 26, 2021

542. THE TRIALS OF OZ. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Gregs Antonacci, Cliff De Young, Dan Leach. (Photos: Martha Swope.)

THE TRIALS OF OZ [Drama/Australian/Law/Sex] A: Geoff Robertson; D: Jim Sharman; S: Mark Ravitz; C: Joseph G. Aulisi; L: Jules Fisher; M: Buzzy Linhart, Mick Jagger, John Lennon, and Yoko Ono; P: Richard Scanga and the Friends of Van Wolf Productions; T: Anderson Theatre (OB); 12/19/72-12/31/72 (15)

Dallas Alinder.

A documentary-type drama, by an Australian lawyer, based on the Old Bailey transcripts of a 1971 London trial. In it the editors of an Australian underground magazine called OZ were accused of publishing obscenity in a special “school kids” issue they had permitted teenage boys to compose. The issue was crammed with sexual writing and cartoons. Clive Barnes wrote that “It had articles on schoolmasters beating pupils—with some conjecture on their motives—and a strip featuring an unusually rampant Rupert the Bear—an English cartoon character that is said to be beloved of children and does have a certain following with the under two‐year‐old set.” The editors, Richard Neville (Cliff De Young), James Anderson (Dan Leach), and Felix Dennis (Greg Antonacci), went to jail, although they were freed later on appeal.

Ten songs by popular rock stars—Buzzy Linhart, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Mick Jagger—were interpolated to provide relief from the legal proceedings.

The author sought to reveal the idiocy of the legal system’s attempts at regulating community standards and morals. He failed, however, to significantly dramatize his material, his presentation was too one-sided in favor of the defense, and the performances of the defendants were too “self-congratulatory” and “sanctimonious,” in Walter Kerr’s opinion. The play did succeed, though, in revealing the ridiculousness of the comments offered during the proceedings. As Barnes observed, “What fools people can make of themselves in public—even at the Old Bailey. And the spectacle of blind British justice grinding down on these orphan foul‐mouths is sad and ludicrous.” An eloquent speech on behalf of love, delivered by De Young as Richard Neville, was a highlight. 

The cast included Myra Carter, Alek Primrose, Richard Clark, Leata Galloway, Dallas Alinder, and William Roerick, among others.

Harold Clurman summed up the general reaction when he found The Trials of OZ both “interesting and boring.”

Next up: Tricks.

Sunday, April 25, 2021


Leon Russom, Sam Waterston, Gwen Arner, Richard Jordan, Joe Ponazecki, Michael Kane, Ed Flanders, Barton Heyman, Nancy Malone. (Photos: Van Williams.)
THE TRIAL OF THE CATONSVILLE NINE [Drama/Crime/Law/Politics/Religion/Vietnam/War] A: Daniel Berrigan, S.J.; AD: Saul Levitt; D: Gordon Davidson; S: Peter Wexler; C: Albert Wolsky; L: Tharon Musser; P: Phoenix Theatre and Leland Hayward i/c/w Good Shepherd Faith Church; T: Good Shepherd Faith Church (OB); 2/7/71-5/30/71 (130); Lyceum Theatre; 6/2/71-6/26/71 (29) (total: 159)

Note: The present entry includes not only information on the 1971 New York production of The Trial of the Catonsville Nine, but an extract about the play’s place in the political theatre of the 1970s from my book Ten Seasons: New York Theatre in the Seventies (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1986). (Some material in the following overview appears there as well.) For my review in The Broadway Blog of the play’s excellent 2019 revival at the Abrons Arts Center, please click on this link.

This controversial import from Los Angeles’s Mark Taper Forum Theatre was one of the few significantly political dramas of the 70s. Its initial New York staging was in an Upper West Side Church redesigned to look like a courtroom. After several months, it moved to Broadway, but lasted there less than a month.

Michael Kane. 

The Trial of the Catonsville Nine is a semi-documentary play done in Theatre of Fact style. Its dialogue is edited from the actual transcripts of the trial at which the radical Jesuit priests, Daniel and Phillip Berrigan, and their cohorts (seven men and two women), were found guilty of the May 1968 crime of burning 379 draft records at Catonsville, Maryland. The sibling priests were sentenced to from two to three and a half years apiece in the Federal penitentiary (they were in prison during the run.) When on trial they attempt to raise the issue of their moral duty in the face of governmental and legal restrictions, much as Antigone seeks to do in Sophocles’ Greek tragedy. Along the way, the contemporary Catholic Church finds itself the target of political thrusts as well.

The play was considered artistically clumsy in structure and technique—“like a roughly edited movie,” griped Jack Kroll, or “a play in name only,” in T.E. Kalem’s view—but most agreed that the subject matter was so potent it made the play’s deficiencies seem unimportant. The straightforward directorial style and the effective performances helped make this plea for civil disobedience in the face of American involvement in the Vietnam War what Martin Gottfried dubbed “a powerful and inspiring” event.

“Like so many courtroom dramas, it makes a positively riveting play,” wrote Clive Barnes. “Everything sounded as if it were being said for the very first time, with the words plucked out of the conscience of the speakers.” Those speakers were played by a large--and, in many cases, distinguished--company including Ed Flanders (replaced on Broadway by Colgate Salsbury), Barton Heyman, Sam Waterston, Gwen Arner (replaced by Jacqueline Coslow), Joe Ponazecki, Richard Jordan (replaced by Michael Moriarty), Nancy Malone (replaced by Ronnie Claire Edwards), David Spielberg (replaced by Josef Sommer), William Schallert (replaced by Mason Adams), Mary Jackson (replaced by Helen Stenborg), and Davis Roberts. 

The play won an OBIE for Distinguished Production, Schallert received one for Distinguished Performance, and Gordon Davidson’s direction earned him both an OBIE and a Tony nomination.

“Political Theatre in New York during the Seventies and The Trial of the Catonsville Nine

 Because politics is so important in our lives and is so infrequently a source of satisfaction to the average man, it is customary in free societies to laugh at those officials and policies with which we disagree. Once more, recall the Greeks. Nevertheless, political satire was not especially noticeable on New York’s stages in the seventies, despite many issues that cried out for laugh-provoking criticism and comment. Various reasons for this have been advanced: the disturbing polarization of the nation in the wake of Vietnam; the possibility that the radical movements of the sixties and early seventies made political comedy redundant; the painfulness of the issues involved; a growing feeling of apathy and helplessness, and so on. Whatever the cause, political satire was not a fruitful mode for most of the decade.

The single most potent image for satirists was that of former President Richard M. Nixon, who resigned from office in 1973. Of the seven or eight works that might be termed political satires, four were aimed at him, although the protagonist’s name was usually disguised. These were Gore Vidal’s An Evening with Richard Nixon and . . . , the musical The Selling of the President, Peter Ustinov’s Who’s Who in Hell, and Pop, a musical farce using King Lear as its premise.

Other political satires were Rubbers and Dirty Linen, the first being a deflation of the New York State Assembly, the second of Britain’s Parliament. Political revues included Eric Bentley’s The Red, White and Black and What’s a Nice Country Like You Doing in a State Like This?

Political concerns were present in many plays, but few were directly addressed to the immediate interests of the American people. Most were about foreign situations; the subject matter was usually of universal rather than topical significance. Of the few plays that did look at American issues, two dealt with the era of McCarthyism. One was Bentley’s docudrama, Are You Now or Have You Ever Been? Based on the hearings in the forties and fifties by a subcommittee of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) inquiring into the political beliefs of major show business figures. An interesting feature of the piece was the use of a series of star actresses to read a famous letter written by Lillian Hellman to the members of the subcommittee. HUAC was also treated in Gerhard Borris’s After the Rise with its obvious debt to Arthur Miller’s After the Fall.

Probably the most controversial of the topical political plays was The Trial of the Catonsville Nine, a docudrama by Father Daniel Berrigan, S.J., one of the participants in the action. (Saul Levitt adapted the piece for the stage.) It is about the trial of Jesuit priests Daniel and Philip Berrigan and a group of seven other Catholic activists, two of them women, for having used napalm to destroy 378 draft files at Catonsville, Maryland, in 1968. 

It opened at the Good Shepherd Faith Church, adjacent to Lincoln Center, where it ran from February 7, 1971, to May 30, 1971, for 170 performances. It then moved for another 29 showings to Broadway’s Lyceum Theatre, from June 2 to June 26. Gordon Davidson directed. Its Off-Broadway cast of thirteen, each playing a single role, included such familiar actors as Ed Flanders, James Woods, Sam Waterston, Richard Jordan, and William Schallert, with well-known names like Biff McGuire, Michael Moriarty, Josef Sommer, and Mason Adams joining the Broadway cast as replacements.

The semi-documentary play, staged in a simulacrum of a courthouse setting and performed in Theatre of Fact style, was edited from the actual trial transcripts. It was viewed as a plea for the necessity of civil disobedience as an act of Christian faith. Many legal and social issues were raised by its attack on contemporary American values and governmental policies, while it also managed to jab sharply at the Catholic Church. It was the author’s contention that drama’s purpose is to have a moral impact in the light of world problems. He condemned theatre that exists only to pass the time and make money.

During the period when the play was in production, all the defendants were in jail, sentenced to two to three and a half years. Following his sentencing, Daniel Berrigan became a fugitive from the law. He was on the verge of being arrested at Cornell University when he enlisted the aid of the Bread and Puppet Theatre, who were appearing there. Hiding himself in the framework of one of their huge puppets, he managed to escape in a van but was eventually captured and sent to federal prison.  

The play was considered artistically clumsy in structure and technique— “like a roughly edited movie,” rapped Jack Kroll; “a play in name only,” chimed in T.E. Kalem—but most critics agreed that the subject matter was so potent it made the play’s deficiencies seem unimportant. The straightforward directorial style and the effective performances helped make this plea for civil disobedience in the face of American involvement in Vietnam a “powerful and inspiring” (Martin Gottfried) event. “Like so many courtroom dramas, it makes a positively riveting play,” wrote Clive Barnes. “Everything sounded as if it were being said for the very first time, with the words plucked out of the conscience of the speakers.”

Plays about political problems pertinent to blacks and women have been discussed in earlier sections [of this book]. We have seen that politics was not a major enticement for playwrights dealing with these groups. Other political topics touched on by American playwrights were the problems of labor leaders, campaigning for office, the foibles and achievements of past residents of the White House, political skullduggery in a governor’s office, upper-class Cuban attitudes toward Castro, and Japanese-American relations in the nineteenth century.

Many of the decade’s foreign political plays have been previously described in the book. They include plays about South African racism, a plot to kill Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba, colonialism in Africa, the Irish troubles, fascism, terrorism, and East European dissidents.

Readers of this blog who may be interested in my Theatre's Leiter Side review collections (one with a memoir), covering almost every show of 2012-2014, will find it at by clicking here. 

Saturday, April 24, 2021


Dean Santoro, Sasha von Scherler. (Photos: Zodiac,)

TRELAWNY OF THE WELLS [Dramatic Revival] A: Arthur Wing Pinero; D: Robert Ronan; S: David Mitchell; C: Theoni V. Aldredge; L: Martin Aronstein; P: New York Shakespeare Festival; T: Public Theater/Florence Anspacher Theater (OB); 10/11/70-1/10/71 (67)*

Robert Ronan, Valerie French.

Many readers will assume that what follows is about the revival of Trelawny of the Wells that helped give another boost to Meryl Streep’s skyrocketing career in the 1970s. However, that revival, which appeared at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theatre in October 1975, and, like this one, was produced by Joe Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival, falls outside the parameters of this series, which ends following the 1974-1975 season.

Robert Ronan, Valerie French.

Pinero’s 1898 comedy of life among the members of a British provincial theatrical company (first seen in New York in 1911) met with mixed reviews in this first production of the decade (the second was far more successful). Clive Barnes called it “a winner,” full of style and panache,” “a dear, darling and only slightly sentimental play,” one that Richard Watts considered a “thoroughgoing delight.”

Stanley Kauffmann, however, thought the show “slovenly,” poorly cast and staged. Walter Kerr enjoyed it but pointed out that it was overdone in various places, producing a rough, uneven result. Edith Oliver ranked it as “pretty bad” and misunderstood by the company. And John Simon, pointing to its stylistic errors, noted that “to give the play an amateurish, un-British . . . , imprecise and unevocative production makes it all rather like a billiard table with the felt ripped off.”

The large company included Frederic Warriner as James Telfer, Geoff Garland as Augustus Colpoys, Michael Wager as Ferdinand Gadd, Robert Ronan (who also directed) as Tom Wrench, Sasha von Scherler as Avonia Bunn, Nancy Dussault as Rose Trelawny, Valerie French as Imogen Parrott, Gene Nye as O’Dwyer, Elaine Eldridge as Mrs. Telfer, and George Bartenieff as Sir William Gower.

*The show was forced to close on November 16, 1970, after 46 performances, because of an Off-Broadway actors’ strike. However, cast member Michael Wager organized a committee to raise $10,000 and managed to reopen the production on December 24, 1970, for an additional 21 performances, after the strike was settled.

For those curious about the revival's star and director, Robert Ronan, here is his brief obituary in the Times of April 9, 1977.

Robert A. Ronan, an actor in many productions of the New York Shakespeare Festival, died Wednesday of injuries received when fire destroyed his home at 143 Goldenrod Avenue in Franklin Park, L. I. He was 41 vears old.

Mr. Ronan, an actor since his undergraduate days at Hofstra University, made his. New York debut in 1965 as the Minstrel in the Phoenix Theater's production of “Dr. Faustus.”

His most notable achievements were directing “Trelawny of the Wells” and acting the role of Tom Wrench, a playwright, in the 1970 revival of Sir Arthur Wing Pinero's play at the Public Theater, with Nancy Dussault as Rose Trelawny.

Readers of this blog who may be interested in my Theatre's Leiter Side review collections (one with a memoir), covering almost every show of 2012-2014, will find it at by clicking here. 

Next up: The Trial of the Catonsville Nine.

Friday, April 23, 2021

539. TOUGH TO GET HELP. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

John Amos. (Photos: Friedman-Abeles.)

TOUGH TO GET HELP [Comedy/Crime/Family/Race] A: Steve Gordon; D: Carl Reiner S: Ed Wittstein; C: Joseph G. Aulisi; L: John Gleason; P: Sandy Farber and Stanley Barnett i/a/w Jules Love and Roy Rubin; T: Royale Theatre; 5/4/72 (1)

Lillian Hayman.

Even with a topnotch comic talent like Carl Reiner directing, this one-night flop couldn’t avoid being condemned as a “disgusting attempt at a comedy” by Brendan Gill. Steve Gordon’s turkey sought to amuse and enlighten through its depiction of an avowedly liberal, white suburban couple, Clifford (Dick O’Neill) and Elaine Grant (Billie Lou Watt), and their Uncle Tom-like Black domestics, a gardener named Luther Jackson (John Amos) and his wife, Beulah (Lillian Hayman), a cook who speaks to God. The Jacksons are faced with a dilemma when their militant son, Leroy (John Danelle), a fugitive who has blown up a bank, arrives at the Grants’ home in Larchmont demanding $10,000 to help him escape to Algeria. The soon radicalized parents get the cash by turning on their employers, whose liberalism quickly flies out the window, and holding them up for the same money that was to be left to them in the employer’s will.

Dick O'Neill.

The critics took issue with the play’s politics, its excessive anger in what purported to be a comic romp, and the aggressive tone of the writing and staging. Regardless of the many funny lines, Tough to Get Help was “simply idiotic,” gasped Douglas Watt. And Clive Barnes commented, “The play, with interminable and unfunny dream sequences, with dialogue that seems to have been picked up wholesale from a TV situation comedy and characters of no real comic depth or perception, does not have a great deal going for it.”

Barnes enjoyed the acting, though, especially that of Amos and O’Neill: “John Amos as Luther . . . is very good indeed, and practically beats the script in the head for laughs. Dick O'Neill is also first‐ rate as the hypocritical white liberal, with his grass and his martinis, his left‐wing opinions and his right‐wing house, . . . and his own enormous self-esteem.”

Note: my friend Ron Fassler sends me this note: "You forgot to mention what major Oscar-nominated screenplay the playwright Steve Gordon went on to write—a little movie called “Arthur”—only to tragically die of a heart attack about a year later at forty-four."

Readers of this blog may be interested in my review collections, covering almost every show of 2012-2014, available at by clicking here. Scroll down there for the three volumes of Theatre's Leiter Side.

Next up: Trelawney of the Wells.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

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

TOUCH [Musical/Youth] B: Kenn Long, Amy Saltz; M: Kenn Long, Jim Crozier; LY: Kenn Long; D: Amy Saltz; S: Robert U. Taylor; L: Charles Lewis; P: Edith O’Hara i/a/w Robert S. Weintstein and the Two Arts Playhouse, Inc., in the Plowright Players Production; T: Village Arena Theatre (OB); 11/8/70; Martinique Theatre (OB): 6/1/71-10/31/71 (422)

Touch was a successful Off-Broadway folk-rock musical—one of several spawned by Hair—about a group of young people who decide to establish a commune. The youthful cast (none older than 24) had worked together for four summers at a Pennsylvania summer theatre. Though not overwhelmed with enthusiasm, the critics were sufficiently diverted by this well-sung and acted, intimate show, which included audience participation. Lacking a conventional book, it had a fragmentary structure that allowed it to be presented both onstage and in the aisles.

Among the happier critics was Harold Clurman, who called it “a gentle and modest musical . . . sentimental but never cloying.” Edith Oliver said it was “an easy little musical . . . in which gentleness and affection prevail.” And Martin Gottfried thought it “appealing . . . , modest . . . and at times touching.”

Director Amy Saltz went on to have a busy career, including as head of the MFA directing program at Rutgers' Mason Gross School of the Arts. The principals, whose names ring no bells today, were Norman Jacob, Barbara Ellis, Kenn Long, Phyllis Gibbs, Gerard S. Doff, Peter J. Mitchell, Susan Rosenblum, Avi Rosenblum, and Dwight Jayne. Mel Gussow, commenting on their apparent amateurishness, which he felt gave the show a certain authenticity, summed up the effect of the performances thusly:

The cast is attractive but ill at ease—like real people, not actors. It is not always clear whether the vulnerability belongs to the actresses or the characters. At the preview I attended, [I] wondered if all of them would get through the show without forgetting their lines or bursting into tears. They made it through to the end, and one was pleased for them. There was a certain charm in this threat of stage fright.

Next up:  Tough to Get Help.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

537. TOTAL ECLIPSE. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Lou Trapani, Maia Danziger, Linda Bowden, Christopher Lloyd, Michael Finn, Dorothy Chace.
TOTAL ECLIPSE [Drama/British/Alcoholism/France/Homosexuality/Literature/Sex] A: Christopher Hampton; D: Robert Kalfin; S: Doug Higgins; C: Nancy Potts; L: William Mintzer; P: Chelsea Theatre Center of Brooklyn; T: Chelsea Theatre, Brooklyn Academy of Music (OB); 2/23/74-3/10/74 (32)

Originally produced in London, in 1968, when playwright Christopher Hampton was only 22, Total Eclipse received generally bland reviews when presented by Brooklyn’s Chelsea Theatre. It pictures in documentary detail the impassioned gay love of two famous French symbolist poets of the late 19th century, Paul Verlaine (Christopher Lloyd) and Arthur Rimbaud (Michael Finn).

Written in a naturalistic style and encompassing the love affair in an episodic sequence of 12 scenes located in Paris, Brussels, London, and Stuttgart, the play covers the years 1871-1875, with an epilogue set in 1892. It reveals how Verlaine, the older, married man, and his 16-year-old (in 1871) lover threw the devil to the winds and engaged in a fervent romance that involved them in violent, booze-stimulated encounters; Verlaine went to prison after shooting Rimbaud in the wrist.

Their sexual adventures were graphically depicted through stage action in which the men grappled affectionately in the nude, a feature Clive Barnes felt was “entirely relevant” within the context. Barnes enjoyed the production more than the play, lauding the direction, acting, and design. Staged in an environment whereby the audience viewed the action from unexpected angles, the play had an intimacy that would have been lost in a proscenium theatre.

In contrast to Barnes's approval, Edith Oliver thought that Total Eclipse was “[T]edious. . . . [T]hree solid hours . . . of alcoholic bickering and teasing and fighting and coupling are too much.” She found “no life either in its action or characters,” nor was she convinced by the performances. And John Simon, while pronouncing positively on the drama’s “earnestness, literacy, and rapid movement,” nevertheless admitted that “it fails to ignite.” The play, he noted, stayed too close to its historical facts and failed to provide sufficient dramatic invention.

Company members included George Morfogen, Lou Trapani, Dorothy Chace, Maia Danziger, Ronald Bishop, Linda Bowden, James Cahill, and Tanny McDonald.

Next up: Touch.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021


Hanan Goldblatt, Yona Atari, Aric Lavie, Rivka Raz, Ili Gorlizki.(Photos: Martha Swope.)
TO LIVE ANOTHER SUMMER, TO PASS ANOTHER WINTER [Musical Revue/Israeli] B: Hayim Hefer; M; Dov Seltzer; ADD. M: David Krvoshei, Alexander Argov, Naomi Shemer; D/CH: Jonaton Karmon; DS: Neil Peter Jampolis; C: Lydia Pincus Gany; P: Leonard Soloway; T: Helen Hayes Theatre; 10/21/71-3/19/73 (173)

Hana Goldblatt, Yona Atari, Aric Lavie, Rivka Raz, Ili Gorlizki.

One of a surprising number of Israel-themed shows—mainly revues—of the period, this one was called “drivel” by John Simon, who tongue in cheek, accused it of being a clever Arab plot to concoct a “pseudo-Israeli” show so poor that the USA would have no recourse but to stop sending arms and money to the beleaguered nation. The Arabs fouled up, he pointed out, because Broadway’s critics and audiences, with their “taste and gutlessness” actually seemed to like it.

Hanan Goldblatt Yona Atari Aric Lavie, Rivka Raz, Ili Gorlizki.

To Live Another Summer, To Pass Another Winter was a bookless revue with five principals and a large number of chorus singers and dancers who presented an assortment of numbers dealing with the trials, tribulations, and joys of being a Jew and an Israeli. There were several beautiful women in the show, even Simon commenting on a “blonde premiere danseuse” who stood out from the others. All were costumed in the blue jeans and tie-dyed clothes one might ostensibly have seen on a kibbutz.

Hillik Zadok, David Glazer, Judith Rosenberg.

A capsulized history of the then less-than-a-quarter-century old country provided the basic framework. It had been written in Hebrew and translated into English but was never intended for home consumption, Broadway being its target from conception.

Simon’s protests were repeated by a small minority. Martin Gottfried, comparing it with previous efforts by director Jonaton Karmon, said it was “still less than professional and still a hustle,” with its “corny” jokes and “excuses for songs.” But a warm welcome was accorded by Douglas Watt, who was charmed by the “combination of high spirits, [and] a genuine air of friendliness and confidence.” Richard Watts found it “nothing short of inspiring in its warm humanity.” And Clive Barnes thought it had “an endearing vitality and an enduring spirit.”

Next up: Total Eclipse.


Monday, April 19, 2021


Denise Lor, Evelyn Kingsley, Moti Giladi, Sarah Rubine.

TO BE OR NOT TO BE—WHAT KIND OF A QUESTION IS THAT? [Comedy-Musical Revue] B: H. Ritterman and Zvi Reisel; M: Eli Rubinstein; L: Max Meszel; D: Marvin Gordon; L: Sally Small; P: Henry Goldgrant and Arthur V. Briskin; T: Barbizon Plaza Theatre (OB); 10/19/70-11/15/70 (32)

A short-lived revue offering 19 songs and sketches about Israeli life. Overstuffed with sentimentality, it lacked wit and effective musical values. Its primary concern is vaguely reflected in the title, a reference to the precarious state of the beleaguered nation of Israel. Still, Lewis Funke reported that the revue’s contents had very little to do with the title.

But political humor and music took a back seat to a variety show format of material touching on such subjects as El Al Airlines, the Israeli melting pot of nationalities, Jewish mothers, and kibbutzes. Of course, the show also touched on the Arab-Israeli conflict and relations among America, Israel, and the Soviet Union.

Funke noted, “Hopes are expressed that in time there will be good neighbors on her borders; the point is made that actually the Arabs and Israelis are brothers, stemming as they do from the House of Abraham (Isaac and Ishmael) and a song tells of the ultimate deception that will be the lot of Egyptians in the embrace of the Russians.”

A typical skit showed a Brooklyn mother visiting her son on a kibbutz and being surprised that he prefers to stay rather than go home. Her response: “What are you all of a sudden, a Fanny Farmer?”

This old-hat show, which Lee Silver found “cheerful and enjoyable,” despite its tired jokes, was performed entirely in English by a cast of Israelis and Americans. Funke’s favorite performers in the eight-member cast were “Moti Giladi, a native Israeli with a nice glint in his eye; Sarah Rubine, an attractive singer, and Mark Stuart, who can belt out a schmaltzy song.”

Also in the cast were Denise Lor, a well-known television singer, and young James Brochu, who  would one day score with his one-man show about Zero Mostel.

Next up: To Live Another Summer, To Pass Another Winter


Sunday, April 18, 2021

534. TIMON OF ATHENS. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Marco St. John, Shepperd Strudwick. (Photos: Friedman-Abeles.)

TIMON OF ATHENS [Dramatic Revival] A: William Shakespeare; D: Gerald Freedman; S: Ming Cho Lee; C: Theoni V. Aldredge; L: Martin Aronstein; M: Jonathan Tunick; CH: Joyce Trisler; P: New York Shakespeare Festival; T: Delacorte Theatre (OB); 6/25/71-7/18/71 (19)

Michael Dunn, Shepperd Strudwick.

Unproduced in 20th-century New York until this version, Timon of Athens starred Shepperd Strudwick in the title role. Its critical reception made it unlikely there would be many major revivals in the years immediately following, at least locally. Only Michael Dunn, a dwarf actor, who played Apemantius, came off well. Everyone else shared the opprobrium with which the play and direction were assailed.

Marco St. John, Shepperd Strudwick.

Clive Barnes lashed out at the “tedious” drama and its boring hero, a combination producing “the dullest of dogs” as its offspring. The acting, verse-speaking, and directorial fiddling were awful, he claimed, with Strudwick being seriously miscast. Walter Kerr’s response to this drama about a man who starts out a philanthropist and ends up a misanthrope was to reject it as “a disheartening business, a venture that must go steadily downhill. . . . I have rarely seen a production in Central Park so unsure of its pictorial effects, so grasping after nonexistent straws . . . , so without power to shape scenes.” John Simon, critical of what he believes an “unfinished” work, felt the production had made matters worse by injudicious cutting (including the only two female characters).

Marco St. John was Alcibiades, and Norman Snow and Sam Tsoutsouvas of the Acting Company each had two small roles, but, unlike most of the Shakespeare in the Park productions of then and now, few actors of wide name recognition were involved.

Nest up: To Be or Not to Be--What Kind of a Question Is That?



For the latest installment in my series, "On This Day in New York Theater," please click on THEATER LIFE.

Saturday, April 17, 2021


Leon Morenzie, Dennis Hines, MadgeSinclair, Clebert Ford. (Photo: Freedman-Abeles.)
TI-JEAN AND HIS BROTHERS [Drama/Family/Fantasy/Race/West Indian] A/D: Derek Walcott; CH: George Faison; S: Edward Burbridge; C: Theoni V. Aldredge; L: Martin Aronstein; M: Andre Tanker; LY: Andre Tanker and Derek Walcott; P: New York Shakespeare Festival; T: Delacorte Theater (OB); 7/20/72-8/6/72 (15)

Ti-Jean and His Brothers was the first new play to be produced by Joseph Papp as part of his annual free Shakespeare in the Park series. Written by Trinidadian Derek Walcott, it is a near-musical folk fable set in the West Indies and with local music, dance, ritual, and costuming to highlight its allegorical motifs.

Ti-Jean proved a heavy experience despite its apparent superficiality; it was found to be abstruse, repetitious, and laden with an encrustation of literary allusions and symbols that bogged the spectator down in cerebration but rarely involved him or her emotionally in the heat of human dilemmas.

The story is that of a poor old lady (Madge Sinclair) with three sons: Gros-Jean (Clebert For is all muscle, Mi-Jean (Leon Morenzie) is all brains, and Ti-Jean (Dennis Hines) is a simple innocent. When the Devil (Albert Laveau) challenges the siblings to a contest, each confronts him in turn. Gros-Jean and Mi-Jean fail are eaten by the Devil, but Ti-Jean, because of his instinctual human qualities and closeness to nature, triumphs.

The Devil appears to each brother in a different guise, his appearance to Ti-Jean being that of an English planter against whom Ti-Jean incites the Black victims of colonial oppression to rise up. His victory is rewarded by allowing the soul of an aborted infant, now a devil’s imp, to be born into manhood as the allegorical representative of the Black man of the future.

To Clive Barnes this multilayered allegory was “hard to take” as a work of theatre. More music might have lightened the burden, he suggested. Julius Novick fond the writing muddled and hard to follow, its life-affirming conclusion excessively “sentimental,” and Walcott’s direction “neither imaginative nor subtle.” John Simon thought it disunified, “lacking in poetic imagination . . . [and] heavily overexplanatory.”

All the reviewers considered Trinidadian Albert Laveau’s tripartite performance the best in the show.

Next up: Timon of Athens



Friday, April 16, 2021

532. THE THREE SISTERS. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Mary Joan-Negro, Mary Lou Rosato, Patti LuPone. (Photos: Diane Gorodnitzki.)

THE THREE SISTERS [Dramatic Revival] A: Anton Chekhov; TR: Tyrone Guthrie and Leonid Kipness; D: Boris Tumarin; S: Douglas W. Schmidt; C: John David Ridge; L: Martin Aronstein; CH: Elizabeth Keen; P: City Center Acting Company; T: Billy Rose Theatre; 12/19/73-1/11/74 (9)

Company of The Three Sisters.

A worthwhile revival of the Prozoroff family drama by the Acting Company, recent alumni of Juilliard, produced in repertory with four other plays during their second New York season. Young actors making the stretch to play older roles can often be embarrassing to watch, but this developing troupe—several of whose members became substantial artists—was able to pull off the feat with considerable aplomb.

Mary-Joan Negro, Kevin Kline.

As the sisters of the title, Mary-Joan Negro was “a touching and romantically appealing Masha,” Patti LuPone “a spirited and disquieted Irina,” and Mary Lou Rosato “a stiff-lipped but compassionate Olga,” according to Clive Barnes. Kevin Kline had some trouble with Vershinin, but the rest of the cast provided a production that Brendan Gill thought “well worth going to see.” Barnes recommended it, too, both for the “special and unaffected clarity” of the performances and for Boris Tumarin’s truthful and atmospheric direction, although Barnes felt it lacked “that special sheen of idealism that runs through the play.”

David Schramm, Patti Lupone, Norman Snow.

Cast members included, among others, Norman Snow as Tusenbach, David Schramm as Chebutykin, Sam Tsoutsouvas as Solyony, Leah Chandler as Dounyasha, Benjamin Hendrickson as Andrey, David Ogden Stiers as Kulygin, and Cynthia Herman as Natasha.

Next up: Ti-Jean and His Brothers

Thursday, April 15, 2021


Roger Morden, Martha Greenhouse.
THREE BY FERLINGHETTI [Comedy-Drama/One-Acts] A: Lawrence Ferlinghetti; D: William E. Hunt; S: Sandi Marks; C: Deborah Foster; L: Ray McCutcheon; P: Winters/Rosen Productions i/a/w Elliott Taubenslag; T: Jan Hus Theatre (OB); 9/22/70-9/27/70 (8)

“Three Thousand Ants,” “The Allegation,” and “The Victims of Amnesia,” by well-known beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti (who died at 102 on February 22 of this year), appalled the critics by their dull, excessively symbolic, and heavily philosophical tone. To Clive Barnes, for example, they were “windy allegories set on some far horizon of poetic sensibility.” John Simon called them “one viscous mass enlivened by two intermissions.” He did note, however, that they read better than they played. One reason he offered was because the author’s elaborately written stage directions were beyond the ability of the producer to express onstage; another is because the director ignored the poet’s requirements.

In “Three Thousand Ants,” considered the best play, an unhappily married man and woman are in bed when he looks out a window and sees a yacht sinking and its passengers saved by an airplane. In the next play, “The Allegation,” a woman keeps an alligator as a pet, but the reptile wants its freedom, and an Indian thinks it should have it. But his advocacy goes nowhere as the alligator and its mistress are unable to break their psychological shackles. In the third, and weakest piece, “The Victims of Amnesia,” a woman chats with a hotel reception clerk, a former  train conductor, who soon conducts her to her room, where she gives unassisted birth to three babies. Downstairs, at his desk, the clerk threatens the audience as images of feet and carnage are projected on a wall.

The trapped actors were Roger Morden, Martha Greenhouse, and Charles Gregory, “who,” said Barnes, “showed no embarrassment whatsoever.”  

Next up: The Three Sisters.