Monday, May 31, 2021

576. WE INTERRUPT THIS PROGRAM. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975


Marshall Borden, Albert Hall, Frederick Coffin, Taurean Blacque, Dino Shorte, Miller Lide, Stanley Brock, Lloyd Hollar, Tony Major, Dick Anthony Williams. (Photos: Martha Swope.)
WE INTERRUPT THIS PROGRAM [Drama/Crime/Mystery] A: Norman Krasna; D: Jerry Adler; S: Robert Randolph; C: Pearl Somner; L: Marc B. Weiss; P: Alexander H. Cohen; T: Ambassador Theatre; 4/1/75-4/5/75 (7)

Abby Lewis, John D. Seymour.

On paper, the idea behind this thriller must have seemed promising. Once on stage, though, it lacked conviction and was soon the victim of its fundamental implausibility. Written by the then 66-year-old Norman Krasna, who had had a distinguished career as a Broadway playwright and Academy Award-winning Hollywood screenwriter and director, the play begins as a conventional Neil Simon-ish comedy set in a New York luxury apartment. Soon, a gang of Black, stocking-masked thugs carrying machine guns and hand grenades comes roaring down the aisles announcing that the show is over and the audience and actors are being held hostage.

The leader of the gang, Al (Dick Anthony Williams), has staged this hijacking in order to force the cops to release his cop-killer brother, Sonny (Albert Hall), and supply a million dollars in cash to get him and his brother out of the country. He calls the mayor to make his demands. Audience plants get involved in the Pirandellian goings on, and eventually the plot is foiled.

Taurean Blacque, Frederick Coffin, Albert Hall, Dick Anthony Williams.

The major problem was in keeping the “hostage” audience attentive once the premise had been established. The devices introduced were bland and clich├ęd, and the exercise soon became tiresome. The hoodlums and everyone else were unable to seem anything but actors, and the same was true of the stooges. As Clive Barnes declared, 

You can identify with people in a disaster flick, whether they are about to frazzled, inundated or otherwise liquidated, but you cannot identify with a fiction of which you yourself are a part. You know that the actors who have taken over the theater are actors, you know that the stooges from the audience are plants, and you know that it is going to have a happy ending, inasmuch as you are going to get out. The worst fear you are likely to have is how long that will be.

Martin Gottfried said of this “contrived, obvious and clumsy” drama that it “is so bad . . . that it cannot be believed.”

Cast members included Holland Taylor, Brandon Maggart, Howard Rollins, Jr., Frederick Coffin, and a considerable number of others.

Do you enjoy Theatre’s Leiter Side? As you may know, since New York’s theatres were forced into hibernation by Covid-19, this blog has provided daily posts on the hundreds of shows that opened in the city, Off and on Broadway, between 1970 and 1975. These have been drawn from an unpublished manuscript that would have been part of my multivolume Encyclopedia of the New York Stage series, which covers every show, of every type, from 1920 through 1950. Unfortunately, the publisher, Greenwood Press, decided it was too expensive to continue the project beyond 1950.

Before I began offering these 1970-1975 entries, however, Theatre’s Leiter Side posted over 1,600 of my actual reviews for shows from 2012 through 2020. The first two years of that experience were published in separate volumes for 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 (the latter split into two volumes). The 2012-2013 edition also includes a memoir in which I describe how, when I was 72, I used the opportunity of suddenly being granted free access to every New York show to begin writing reviews of everything I saw. Interested readers can find these collections on Amzon.com by clicking here. 

Next up: Welcome to Andromeda and Variety Obit.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

575. THE WEDDING OF IPHIGENIA and IPHIGENIA IN CONCERT. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Manu Tupou.
THE WEDDING OF IPHIGINEA and IPHIGINEA IN CONCERT [Musical/Period] AD: Doug Dyer, Peter Link, and Gretchen Cryer; SC: Euripides’ play Iphigenia in Aulisi; M: Peter Link; LY: Euripides; D: Gerald Freedman; S: Douglas W. Schmidt; C: Theoni V. Aldredge; L: Laura Rambaldi; P: New York Shakespeare Festival; T: Public Theater/Martinson Hall (OB); 12/16/71-3/8/72 (139)

Madge Sinclair, center.

One of several attempts during the period to rock-musicalize the classics, in this case a less-than-widely-known Greek tragedy by Euripides. The evening was divided into two parts, each with its own title. In both parts the role of Iphigenia was sung and acted by a chorus of 12 talented young actress-singers of whom Harold Clurman said, “They compose the best-looking group of girls on the New York stage today.” They were Nell Carter, Margaret Dorn, Leata Galloway, Bonnie Guidry, Patricia Hawkins, Marta Heflin, Lynda Lee Lawley, Andrea Marcovicci, Julienne Marshall, Pamela Pentony, Marion Ramsey, and Sharon Redd.

This group, said Julius Novick, represented “an extraordinary feat of casting, collectively sing up a storm, and they all register as individuals.” Clive Barnes added that the women made “you . . . well contented with the sex.” Unfortunately, he also observed, “without a readily identifiable heroine, the tragic pathos of the piece naturally becomes dissipated.”

A further problem was the show’s apparent pointlessness. It added “nothing” to the original, thought Barnes, and had no clear purpose for an audience of 1972, believed Clurman and Novick. Another drawback included a lack of suspense deriving from a “double time scheme,” in which, as Walter Kerr pointed out, Iphigenia both knows and does not know what her fate will be. In Novick’s view, the unfocused treatment failed to fully dramatize the situations.

In Part I, the plot of Iphigenia in Aulis is faithfully followed. It tells the story of Agamemnon’s (Manu Tupou) sacrifice of his daughter, Iphigenia, a plot foiled by the goddess Artemis, so his fleet can sail safely to Troy. Part II is in the form of a concert, with the lyrics recounting Iphigenia’s travails in Tauris, to which legend holds she was whisked when her father’s blade would otherwise have slain her. (The only other named character is Clytemnestra, played by Madge Sinclair.)

Aside from the actors' fine singing and movement, Peter Link’s rock score—played by a group called Goatleg—made the strongest impression. “This is one of the best musical scores of the season—warm, vibrant and very appealing,” enthused Barnes.

Do you enjoy Theatre’s Leiter Side? As you may know, since New York’s theatres were forced into hibernation by Covid-19, this blog has provided daily posts on the hundreds of shows that opened in the city, Off and on Broadway, between 1970 and 1975. These have been drawn from an unpublished manuscript that would have been part of my multivolume Encyclopedia of the New York Stage series, which covers every show, of every type, from 1920 through 1950. Unfortunately, the publisher, Greenwood Press, decided it was too expensive to continue the project beyond 1950.

Before I began offering these 1970-1975 entries, however, Theatre’s Leiter Side posted over 1,600 of my actual reviews for shows from 2012 through 2020. The first two years of that experience were published in separate volumes for 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 (the latter split into two volumes). The 2012-2013 edition also includes a memoir in which I describe how, when I was 72, I used the opportunity of suddenly being granted free access to every New York show to begin writing reviews of everything I saw. Interested readers can find these collections on Amazon.com by clicking here. 

Next up: We Interrupt This Program.

 

Saturday, May 29, 2021

574. WEDDING BAND. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

James Broderick, Ruby Dee. (Photos: Friedman-Abeles.)
WEDDING BAND [Comedy-Drama/Race/Romance/Southern] A: Alice Childress; D: Alice Childress and Joseph Papp; S: Ming Cho Lee; C: Theoni V. Aldredge; L: Martin Aronstein; P: New York Shakespeare Festival; T: Public Theater/Estelle R. Newman Theater (OB); 9/26/72-2/25/73 (175)

Ruby Dee, Hilda Haynes.
Alice Childress’s drama of Black-white racial attitudes in 1918 South Carolina--first produced in 1966 at the University of Michigan--was unusual in its choice of time and place, coming as it did in an era when other Black playwrights were preoccupied with the harshness of life in the contemporary urban landscape, especially the ghetto. It received warm, though reserved, notices, and was ultimately seen as one of the decade’s most effective dramas of the Black experience.

Julia Augustine (Ruby Dee), a relatively well-educated, sharp-thinking Black woman in her 30s, has been the mistress of Herman (James Broderick, succeeded by Robert Loggia), a white baker, for 10 years. The miscegenation laws of South Carolina make their longed-for marriage illegal, and do not even permit Herman to be in Julia’s abode. She has thus moved frequently in search of a place where she and he can meet without attracting undue attention.

Herman has never had the courage to take Julia away to the presumably more accommodating North, where he can marry and live with her. He contracts the flu (1918 was the year of the horrendous influenza pandemic) and is put up at her new apartment, where his bigoted mother (Jean David) and sister, Annabelle (Polly Holliday), come to take him home, insulting Julia in the process. When Herman finally returns to take Julia North, she blows up at him. Eventually she succumbs to her emotions as he dies in her arms.

Played in Ming Cho Lee’s beautifully designed tenement backyard set, with the interior of Julia’s apartment visible, the play sharply limned the life of the housing complex with its diverse characters. There were criticisms that these people seemed too charming and amusing as opposed to the stereotypical rednecks, and several commentators suggested that the material could have inspired a musical like Show Boat or Porgy and Bess. Childress’s anger at white racism was apparent, but not overly hammered; when a tone of 1972 militantism occasionally crept in the effect was discomfiting.

Among the charges aimed at the play were its “sentimentality” and “old-fashioned” style, in Clive Barnes’s words. Douglas Watt picked on its drawn-out first act, a few cardboard characters, and a feeling of the “pat and superficial.” Yet it was liked heartily for its touching subject matter, its human insights, and its outstanding performances.

Wedding Band,” wrote Harold Clurman, “has an authenticity which, whatever its faults, makes it compelling both as script and performance.” Both Ruby Dee and James Broderick (father of Matthew) were extolled, as were the others in the ensemble, among them Hilda Haynes, Juanita Clark, Clarice Taylor, Brandon Maggart (suceeded by Anthony Palmer), and Albert Hall. Dee’s performance earned her a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance.

A well-received TV version in 1974 costarred Dee and J.D. Cannon.

Do you enjoy Theatre’s Leiter Side? As you may know, since New York’s theatres were forced into hibernation by Covid-19, this blog has provided daily posts on the hundreds of shows that opened in the city, Off and on Broadway, between 1970 and 1975. These have been drawn from an unpublished manuscript that would have been part of my multivolume Encyclopedia of the New York Stage series, which covers every show, of every type, from 1920 through 1950. Unfortunately, the publisher, Greenwood Press, decided it was too expensive to continue the project beyond 1950.

Before I began offering these 1970-1975 entries, however, Theatre’s Leiter Side posted over 1,600 of my actual reviews for shows from 2012 through 2020. The first two years of that experience were published in separate volumes for 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 (the latter split into two volumes). The 2012-2013 edition also includes a memoir in which I describe how, when I was 72, I used the opportunity of suddenly being granted free access to every New York show to begin writing reviews of everything I saw. Interested readers can find these collections on Amazon.com by clicking here. 

Next up: The Wedding of Iphigenia and Iphigenia in Concert.

 

Friday, May 28, 2021

573. THE WEB AND THE ROCK. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Dolores Sutton, Elsa Raven, James Naughton. (Photo: Friedmn-Abeles.)
THE WEB AND THE ROCK [Drama/Romance] A: Dolores Sutton; SC: Thomas Wolfe’s novel, The Web and the Rock; D: Jose Ferrer; S: Peter Wexler; C: Edith Luytens Bel Geddes; L: Roger Morgan; P: Cheryl Crawford and Jean Dalrymple i/a/w Robert S. Mankin and Jim Wise, b/s/a/w Lucille Lortel Productions, Inc.; T: Theatre de Lys (OB); 3/19/72-3/16/72 (9)

Actress Dolores Sutton, who wrote this novel-to-play adaptation, also played one of its leading roles, Esther Jack, based on famed stage designer Aline Bernstein. George Webber, based on Bernstein’s lover, Thomas Wolfe, who wrote the original novel, was played by James Naughton. The play describes the tempestuous relationship of the struggling, neurotic young writer from North Carolina and the respected Jewish artist, 20 years his senior. Sutton’s play tells the story episodically, opening at George’s funeral, flashing back to the Webber and Jack affair, and closing with the funeral.

The adaptation was talky, heavy-handed, and dull. “It plays like a Disney cartoon of a Strindberg drama,” quipped Michael Feingold. There was nothing of Wolfe’s ability to capture a “sense of time, place and atmosphere," thought Clive Barnes, though the attempt was “interesting and worthwhile.” To Edith Oliver the effect was “like a tedious television show,” with what were, to John Simon, “embarrassing, . . . giggle-provoking” lines. “The Wolfe had been kept at the door.”

Do you enjoy Theatre’s Leiter Side? As you may know, since New York’s theatres were forced into hibernation by Covid-19, this blog has provided daily posts on the hundreds of shows that opened in the city, Off and on Broadway, between 1970 and 1975. These have been drawn from an unpublished manuscript that would have been part of my multivolume Encyclopedia of the New York Stage series, which covers every show, of every type, from 1920 through 1950. Unfortunately, the publisher, Greenwood Press, decided it was too expensive to continue the project beyond 1950.

Before I began offering these 1970-1975 entries, however, Theatre’s Leiter Side posted over 1,600 of my actual reviews for shows from 2012 through 2020. The first two years of that experience were published in separate volumes for 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 (the latter split into two volumes). The 2012-2013 edition also includes a memoir in which I describe how, when I was 72, I used the opportunity of suddenly being granted free access to every New York show to begin writing reviews of everything I saw. Interested readers can find these collections on Amazon.com by clicking here. 

Next up: Wedding Band.

 

Thursday, May 27, 2021

572. WAITING FOR MONGO. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Bill Cobbs, Adolph Caesar, Graham Brown, Samm-Art Williams. (Photo: Bert Andrews.)
WAITING FOR MONGO [Comedy/Fantasy/Race/Southern] A: Silas Jones; D: Douglas Turner Ward; S/C: Mary Mease Warren; L: Sandra L. Ross; P: Negro Ensemble Company; T: St. Marks Playhouse (OB); 5/18/75-6/15/75 (16)

Silas Jones’s “nightmare comedy,” as he called it, examines the plight of a simple, young Black man, Virgil (Reyno). He is believed by the white folks of Deliverance, Mississippi, to have raped a white girl. In consequence, Virgil shelters in a church basement where he spends the frightened moments as a lynch mob gathers outside. He fantasizes that he will be saved by Black Freedom army, led by Mongo, when it launches its invasion of the South.

Virgil imagines his boot to be a field telephone and talks to his wished-for savior on its wave length. The preacher of the church (Bill Cobbs) takes the role of the heroic Mongo in his dreams. Scenes of reality involving various Black townspeople alternate with Virgil’s hallucinations. In the former, the author introduces two amusing female gossips (Babe Drake Hooks and Barbara Montgomery), a teacher (Ethel Ayler), and others. In the end, the KKK captures Virgil and lynches him.

The play’s attempt at contrasting illusion with reality was obvious, but Jones’s technique failed to clear up all ambiguities for Edith Oliver and several others. The effect was mildly confusing. Mel Gussow enjoyed the spectacle of certain Black stereotypes being satirized as a covert danger to other Blacks.

Adolph Caesar and Samm-Art Williams were in the cast.

Do you enjoy Theatre’s Leiter Side? As you may know, since New York’s theatres were forced into hibernation by Covid-19, this blog has provided daily posts on the hundreds of shows that opened in the city, Off and on Broadway, between 1970 and 1975. These have been drawn from an unpublished manuscript that would have been part of my multivolume Encyclopedia of the New York Stage series, which covers every show, of every type, from 1920 through 1950. Unfortunately, the publisher, Greenwood Press, decided it was too expensive to continue the project beyond 1950.

Before I began offering these 1970-1975 entries, however, Theatre’s Leiter Side posted over 1,600 of my actual reviews for shows from 2012 through 2020. The first two years of that experience were published in separate volumes for 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 (the latter split into two volumes). The 2012-2013 edition also includes a memoir in which I describe how, when I was 72, I used the opportunity of suddenly being granted free access to every New York show to begin writing reviews of everything I saw. Interested readers can find these collections on Amazon.com by clicking here. 

Next up: The Web and the Rock.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

571. WAITING FOR GODOT. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975


Henderson Forsythe, Edward Winter, Paul B. Price. (Photos: Alan B. Tepper.)
WAITING FOR GODOT [Dramatic Revival] A: Samuel Beckett; D: Alan Schneider; DS: William Ritman; P: Edgar Lansbury, Mark Wright, and Joseph Beruh i/a/w Stuart Duncan and H.B. Lutz; T: Sheridan Square Playhouse (OB); 2/3/71-10/3/71 (277)

David Jay, Joey Faye, Tom Ewell, Larry Bryggman, Tom Rosqui.

In the years following its first New York production in 1956 (from which present director Alan Schneider had been fired during the play’s now famous pre-New York tryout), there had been several short-lived New York revivals of Waiting for Godot. By 1970 its status as a world-acclaimed, avant-garde masterpiece was assured and an important revival of it was overdue. (New York has seen many since.)

As Schneider held the rights to its local performance, and was unwilling to release them to another director, it was only natural that he would want to stage the play and, through its performance, rectify the “error” Michael Myerberg had made in removing him 14 years earlier. (Schneider, however, had directed the play in Houston in 1959 and on TV in 1960.) Most of the critics thought the new mounting vindicated the director for his earlier embarrassment, and the show had a decent Off-Broadway run.

Paul B. Price, Henderson Forsythe, Anthony Holland, Edward Winter. 

Although the actors were well-established stage and screen presences, none were on the big-name level that ultimately came to be associated with the show’s most noteworthy revivals, such as the current streaming version starring Ethan Hawke, John Leguizimo, and Wallace Shawn. Paul B. Price played Estragon, Henderson Forsythe was Vladimir, Anthony Holland was Lucky, Edward Winter was Pozzo, and David Jay was A Boy. During the run, several first-line actors served as replacements, among them Warren Pincus for Estragon and Vladimir, Joey Faye for Estragon, Jordan Charney and Tom Ewell (from the 1956 production) for Vladimir, Tom Rosqui for Lucky, and Larry Bryggman for Pozzo. (For my reviews of two relatively recent New York revivals, one in Yiddish, the other starring Sirs Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, click here.)

Richard Watts thought it “beautifully done in every respect,” capturing all the play’s “remarkable qualities.” Edith Oliver extolled it as “an extremely well-done work. . . . My . . . interest . . . never let up. . . . I found it full of wit and surprises (although not moving).” It was a “very finely revived” version, agreed Clive Barnes, “given just the right mixture of love, sympathy, and that fugitive understanding of man’s heroic futility that Beckett is all about.”

Opposing viewpoints came from T.E. Kalem, Martin Gottfried, and Harold Clurman. The first declared the play to be boring, by no means a masterpiece, and widely popular only because of a vogue for plays that speak “to the inner spirit of an age that is anti-heroic, narcissistic, self-pitying, and prone to believe that man’s journey through life is a plotless shuttle from nothing to nowhere.” Still, he added, this “revival is as good as one can legitimately imagine.” Gottfried, on the other hand, loved the play, but derided the direction as depressing, unamusing, academic, and lacking Beckett’s spirit. To Clurman the staging was overly busy, and the play badly served by Schneider’s “jazzed-up mounting.”

Holland’s Lucky and Forsythe’s Vladimir (a.k.a. Didi) were the most highly praised performances.

Do you enjoy Theatre’s Leiter Side? As you may know, since New York’s theatres were forced into hibernation by Covid-19, this blog has provided daily posts on the hundreds of shows that opened in the city, Off and on Broadway, between 1970 and 1975. These have been drawn from an unpublished manuscript that would have been part of my multivolume Encyclopedia of the New York Stage series, which covers every show, of every type, from 1920 through 1950. Unfortunately, the publisher, Greenwood Press, decided it was too expensive to continue the project beyond 1950.

Before I began offering these 1970-1975 entries, however, Theatre’s Leiter Side posted over 1,600 of my actual reviews for shows from 2012 through 2020. The first two years of that experience were published in separate volumes for 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 (the latter split into two volumes). The 2012-2013 edition also includes a memoir in which I describe how, when I was 72, I used the opportunity of suddenly being granted free access to every New York show to begin writing reviews of everything I saw. Interested readers can find these collections on Amazon.com by clicking here. 

Next up: Waiting for Mongo

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

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

Kristoffer Tabori. (Photo: Ken Howard.)
THE WAGER [Comedy/Marriage/Sex/University/Youth] A: Mark Medoff; D: Anthony Perkins; S: David Mitchell; C: Mary Beth Regan; L: Neil Peter Jampolis; P: Richard Lee Marks, Henry Jaffe, and William Craver; T: Eastside Playhouse (OB); 10/21/74-1/19/75 (104)

Two mismatched graduate school students are roommates at a California university. Leeds (Kristoffer Tabori) is a smarmy, linguistically brilliant, sardonic, sexually hung-up, emotionally stifled, intellectual going for his Ph.D. in philosophy. Ward (Kenneth Gilman) is a superficially personable, muscular, womanizing, none-too-bright jock, working on a Master’s in Phys. Ed.

Leeds, probably out of his own feelings of inadequacy, tempts Ward with a wager whereby the jock must seduce statistician Honor (Linda Cook), desirable wife of a boring young microbiology professor, Ron (John Heard), who lives in their building. If he fails in this goal within 48 hours without Ron finding out, Ron will kill Ward. In the course of the play, Ron and Honor’s marriage crumbles, Ward fails to sleep with Honor, and Honor ends up provocatively alone with Leeds, whose armor she threatens to pierce.

Critical division greeted The Wager, although it was selected as a Best Play of the Year. There was little quarrelling, however, over the generally well-done, smoothly-paced direction of Anthony Perkins, best known as a leading man. It was the play that separated the reviewers, although the consensus was on the downside. 

Clive Barnes called it “a dandy new comedy” by “a dexterous and extraordinarily witty playwright” who drew his characters “beautifully . . . with a knowing and loving hand.” Jack Kroll was enthusiastic about “this youthful, exuberant, perturbed, imperfect play.” However, Douglas Watt thought the comedy “utter nonsense,” terming the its obsession with verbal foolery “a clumsy and mystifying attempt at playing with words.” The play was a futile stab at “wishful repartee,” claimed Martin Gottfried, serving as a poor substitute for action. Edith Oliver dubbed The Wager “mean-spirited” and its people “hard to give a damn about,” while John Simon described it as pseudo-Stoppardian, implausible, and replete with heartless characters.

Do you enjoy Theatre’s Leiter Side? As you may know, since New York’s theatres were forced into hibernation by Covid-19, this blog has provided daily posts on the hundreds of shows that opened in the city, Off and on Broadway, between 1970 and 1975. These have been drawn from an unpublished manuscript that would have been part of my multivolume Encyclopedia of the New York Stage series, which covers every show, of every type, from 1920 through 1950. Unfortunately, the publisher, Greenwood Press, decided it was too expensive to continue the project beyond 1950.

Before I began offering these 1970-1975 entries, however, Theatre’s Leiter Side posted over 1,600 of my actual reviews for shows from 2012 through 2020. The first two years of that experience were published in separate volumes for 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 (the latter split into two volumes). The 2012-2013 edition also includes a memoir in which I describe how, when I was 72, I used the opportunity of suddenly being granted free access to every New York show to begin writing reviews of everything I saw. Interested readers can find these collections on Amazon.com by clicking here. 

Next up: Waiting for Godot

Monday, May 24, 2021

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

Richard Kiley, Julie Harris. (Photos: Friedman-Abeles.)
VOICES [Drama/Death/Marriage/Mystery] A: Richard Lortz; D: Gilbert Cates; S/L: Jo Mielzine; C: Theoni V. Aldredge; M: Peggy Stuart Coolidge; P: Jerry Schlossberg, Jerry Hammer, and Adela Holzer; T: Ethel Barrymore Theatre; 4/3/72-4/8/72 (8)
Julie Harris, Richard Kiley.

Despite a five-member cast, this essentially two-character suspense thriller, a genre that has practically vanished from Broadway, featured Richard Kiley and Julie Harris as a married couple spending a long weekend at an isolated old Maine cabin during a snowstorm. The wife has recently been released from a mental home. She still has nightmares of a drowned five-year-old son who died while she and her husband were having sex during a St. Thomas beach vacation.

Lisa Essary, Julie Harris.

As the blizzard outside rages, the ghostly voices and presences of a departed family assail her inside. The husband refuses until the second act to admit he hears the voices, too. The play concludes by revealing that the couple are themselves dead. (Some may be reminded of a vaguely similar premise in the movie blockbuster, The Sixth Sense.)

Plays like this “give Broadway a bad name,” groused Clive Barnes, who attacked the work for its lack of suspense and “faltering command of the English language.” Similar comments were forthcoming from the other critics, although one or two, like Martin Gottfried, thought the play evolved slowly into “a ghost story with a genuinely nifty twist, a very satisfying spook show.”

The stars, two of Broadway’s greatest, were at sea and neither received noteworthy encomiums for their participation. Others involved were Lisa Essary, Patricia Wheel, and Scott Firestone.

Do you enjoy Theatre’s Leiter Side? As you may know, since New York’s theatres were forced into hibernation by Covid-19, this blog has provided daily posts on the hundreds of shows that opened in the city, Off and on Broadway, between 1970 and 1975. These have been drawn from an unpublished manuscript that would have been part of my multivolume Encyclopedia of the New York Stage series, which covers every show, of every type, from 1920 through 1950. Unfortunately, the publisher, Greenwood Press, decided it was too expensive to continue the project beyond 1950.

Before I began offering these 1970-1975 entries, however, Theatre’s Leiter Side posted over 1,600 of my actual reviews for shows from 2012 through 2020. The first two years of that experience were published in separate volumes for 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 (the latter split into two volumes). The 2012-2013 edition also includes a memoir in which I describe how, when I was 72, I used the opportunity of suddenly being granted free access to every New York show to begin writing reviews of everything I saw. Interested readers can find these collections on Amazon.com by clicking here. 

Next up: The Wager. 

 

Sunday, May 23, 2021

MAY 23, 1922: ON THIS DAY IN NEW YORK THEATER

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Abie;s Irish Rose.

For the latest installment in my series, ON THIS DAY IN NEW YORK THEATER, please click on THEATER LIFE.

568. VIVAT! VIVAT! REGINA. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Eileen Atkins. (Photos: Friedman-Abeles.)

VIVAT! VIVAT! REGINA [Drama/Biographical/British/Period/Political/Women] A: Robert Bolt; D: Peter Dews; S/C: Carl Toms; L: Lloyd Burlingame; M: Richard Kayne; P: David Merrick and Arthur Cantor b/a/w H.M. Tennent, Ltd.; T: Broadhurst Theatre; 1/20/72-4/29/72 (116)

Claire Bloom, John Devlin.

Robert Bolt’s British history drama about Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I was produced on Broadway with Eileen Atkins in her London role of Elizabeth but with Claire Bloom taking the role of Mary, played on the West End by Sarah Miles, Bolt’s wife. The drama was intended as a non-romantic “black play,” a work that sought to present the familiar story of the warring 16th-century monarchs in an unvarnished, realistic fashion.

Sticking to the facts, Bolt avoided having Mary and Elizabeth meet, a fabrication famously used in Schiller’s classic Mary Stuart. The years from 1559-1587 are traversed by the action, with the leading actors aging visibly during the course of the performance. The chief point of this long historical overview is to show the evolving characters of the queens, Mary growing from a sensual 16-year-old political novice to a woman of intelligence, feeling, and warmth, and Elizabeth moving from a charming, vivacious noblewoman to a steely leader of cold craft and political wisdom.

Claire Bloom, Eileen Atkins, Stephen Macht, Theodore Tenley.

Bolt uses various theatrical devices to telescope the 28 years covered. Among them are direct address speeches delivered to fill in narrative gaps.

Essentially a star vehicle, Vivat! Vivat! Regina met mostly with polite acceptance or indifferent rebuffs. The critics applauded Carl Toms’s lavish and well-designed sets and costumes, but could not agree on the theatrical value of Bolt’s treatment. This “new and persuasive” telling was flawed and “insubstantial,” but vital, noted Clive Barnes, who pointed to the playwright’s clever use of contemporary colloquialisms, sophisticated wit, honest characterizations, and “smart and glossy” writing. T.E. Kalem described it as “a vivid tapestry of passion, blood, majesty and death.”

Less responsive was Walter Kerr, who failed to see the justification for writing the play. Brendan Gill was “dismayed” by seeing the potential for a history drama of international power struggles dwindle into an excuse “for courtly conversation and amorous byplay.”

Atkins and Bloom were showered with compliments although most of the latter’s accolades were directed more at her beauty than her acting which, although professionally smooth, used an unconvincing French accent (supported by history). Atkins received a Tony nomination for Best Actress, Play, and Bloom won a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance. The play itself was Tony-nominated, and other Tony nominations went to Douglas Rain, who played William Cecil, for Best Supporting Actor, Play, and Lee Richardson, who played Lord Bothwell, in the same category.

Other names in the large cast included Diana Kirkwood, Alexander Scourby, Ralph Clanton, Stephen Macht, Theodore Tenley, John Devlin, and Ralph Drischell.

Do you enjoy Theatre’s Leiter Side? As you may know, since New York’s theatres were forced into hibernation by Covid-19, this blog has provided daily posts on the hundreds of shows that opened in the city, Off and on Broadway, between 1970 and 1975. These have been drawn from an unpublished manuscript that would have been part of my multivolume Encyclopedia of the New York Stage series, which covers every show, of every type, from 1920 through 1950. Unfortunately, the publisher, Greenwood Press, decided it was too expensive to continue the project beyond 1950.

Before I began offering these 1970-1975 entries, however, Theatre’s Leiter Side posted over 1,600 of my actual reviews for shows from 2012 through 2020. The first two years of that experience were published in separate volumes for 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 (the latter split into two volumes). The 2012-2013 edition also includes a memoir in which I describe how, when I was 72, I used the opportunity of suddenly being granted free access to every New York show to begin writing reviews of everything I saw. Interested readers can find these collections on Amazon.com by clicking here. 

Up next: Voices.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

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

Rachel Roberts, John McMartin. (Photos: Van Williams.)

THE VISIT [Dramatic Revival] A: Friedrich Durrenmatt; AD: Maurice Valencey; D: Harold Prince; S: Edward Burbridge; C: Carolyn Parker; L: Ken Billington; P: New Phoenix Repertory Company; T: Ethel Barrymore Theatre; 11/25/73-2/16/74 (32)

George Ede, Rachel Roberts, Ralph Drischell.

One of three plays produced by the short-lived New Phoenix Repertory Company during the 1973-1974 season, The Visit allowed musical theatre director Hal Prince one of his infrequent opportunities to stage a nonmusical play. Swiss dramatist Durrenmatt’s 1956 tragicomic morality play, his best-known creation (seen on Broadway in 1958 as the opening production at the renamed Lunt-Fontanne Theatre), was given a somberly atmospheric staging, emphasizing its bitter theme of retribution for old wrongs.  

Set in the dying German town of Gullen, it follows a visit there after many years of Clara Zachnassian (Rachel Roberts), a former resident, now the world’s wealthiest woman. Clara offers the townspeople a fabulous sum of money if they will execute Anton Schill (John McMartin). Schill, a respected citizen, got her pregnant when she was 17 and then rejected her. The dilemma faced by the town provides a striking situation expertly exploited by the playwright’s fanciful, sometimes bizarre, cast of characters.

Merwin Goldsmith, Bill Moor, John McMartin, Ralph Drischell, John Glover.

Most critics welcomed the revival, but John Simon was perturbed about the decision to use Maurice Valencey’s loosely adapted version of the play, which he called an “abortion.” There was sharp disagreement over the production’s quality. Clive Barnes, Walter Kerr, and Brendan Gill, for example, thought the direction excellent. Said Barnes, “Mr. Prince’s staging catches the play’s mystery and sense of corruption with a dazzling ease.” The sparse setting was deemed effective by some, Barnes calling it “absolutely right for the swift-moving play.” And the acting, especially by Roberts and McMartin, was generally considered superlative.

On the other hand, John Simon and Harold Clurman thought the direction “amateurish.” Simon said the result was “a tedium composed in equal parts of pretentiousness and ineptitude.” There was, he added, a notable absence of humor. He and Clurman also disparaged the sets as unimaginative, and had little good to say of the performances, which included contributions from Peter Friedman, Bill Moor, Ralph Drischell, George Ede, John Glover, Merwin Goldsmith, David Dukes, Richard Venture, Curt Karabalis, Thomas A. Stewart, and Valentine Mayer.

Despite the critical disagreements, Prince won a Drama Desk Award for his direction, and Ken Billington landed a Tony nomination for his lighting.

A problematic musical version of The Visit, starring Chita Rivera, visited Broadway in 2015. My review can be found here.

Do you enjoy Theatre’s Leiter Side? As you may know, since New York’s theatres were forced into hibernation by Covid-19, this blog has provided daily posts on the hundreds of shows that opened in the city, Off and on Broadway, between 1970 and 1975. These have been drawn from an unpublished manuscript that would have been part of my multivolume Encyclopedia of the New York Stage series, which covers every show, of every type, from 1920 through 1950. Unfortunately, the publisher, Greenwood Press, decided it was too expensive to continue the project beyond 1950.

Before I began offering these 1970-1975 entries, however, Theatre’s Leiter Side posted over 1,600 of my actual reviews for shows from 2012 through 2020. The first two years of that experience were published in separate volumes for 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 (the latter split into two volumes). The 2012-2013 edition also includes a memoir in which I describe how, when I was 72, I used the opportunity of suddenly being granted free access to every New York show to begin writing reviews of everything I saw. Interested readers can find these collections on Amazon.com by clicking here. 

Next up: Vivat! Vivat! Regina.

 

 

 

Friday, May 21, 2021

566. VIA GALACTICA. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Via Galactica. (Photos: Morty Lefkoe.)

VIA GALACTICA [Musical/Fantasy/Political/Science-Fiction] B: Christopher Gore and Judith Ross; M: Galt McDermott; LY: Christopher Gore; D: Peter Hall; CH: George Faison; S/C: John Bury; L: Lloyd Burlingame; P George W. George and Barnard S. Straus i/a/w Nat Shapiro; T: Uris Theatre; 11/28/72-12/2/72 (7)

Via Galactica.

The year is 2972, a 1,000 years in the future, and Earth no longer has racial problems: everyone is blue. Thoughts are controlled and suicide at age 55 is compulsory. A garbage man named Gabriel Finn (Raul Julia), who deposits his refuse in orbit by means of an outer-space garbage ship, is dissatisfied with life under these conditions and travels to Ithaca, a distant asteroid, where Dr. Isaacs (Keene Curtis), the leader, is nothing but a living head. Ithaca supports a group of dissidents who disagree with Earth’s way of running people’s lives.

Virginia Vestoff, Keene Curtis.

The doctor wants the garbage man to mate with Omaha (Virginia Vestoff), the doctor’s beautiful wife, and thereby provide him with an heir. Eventually, after the mating, the inhabitants of the asteroid leave by space ark to colonize a far-off star and thereby escape the threat of invasion by Earth.

Most critics thought this plot befuddled in the telling; a closely detailed program synopsis tended to confuse matters even further. The futuristic story was the excuse for a pop opera in which all the dialogue was sung, but for which the words and music were inescapably inadequate.

Song titles included "Via Galactica," "We Are One," "Helen of Troy," "The Other Side of the Sky," "Children of the Sun," "Ilmar's Tomb," "Gospel of Gabriel Finn," "The Great Forever Wagon," "Dance the Dark Away," and "New Jerusalem," among others. 

Conceived and directed by leading British director Peter Hall, knighted five years later, Via Galactica was a sci-fi fantasy that turned into a very expensive nightmare for its backers. It was spectacularly produced with elaborate lighting and scenic effects, and with trampolines employed to create the effect of weightless movement. No one was impressed by the trick, which seemed more silly than innovative. In less than a week Via Galactica was orbiting the space junk atmosphere.

Typical of the responses was Walter Kerr’s accusation that Via Galactica “was doggerel opera,” “utterly without humor,” and, for all its movement, “quite staggeringly static." Clive Barnes liked  Galt McDermott’s score, which he though as good as the one for Dude, another McDermott flop that season. It has “the bounce and radiance that are McDermott trademarks,” he declared. The show’s fundamental problem, Barnes opined, “is the banality of the book, which has no interest and no point of contact with the audience. It is a difficult show to care for.”

The performances were critically acceptable, but, as Barnes claimed, “it is Raul Julia’s show, and his charm and presence are always evident.” Among the many others involved were Irene Cara, Bill Starr, and Mark Baker.

Hall was fully aware he was trapped in a debacle. In Peter Hall's Diaries, his entry for "Friday 24 November" went: 

New York: I have now been for one solid month and more in the grip of a rehearsal nightmare which is the same each and every day. Via Galactica, though getting better technically, is getting thinner and less worthwhile in its heart. It is dying, as shows can. And there is nothing much I can do about it. There is life there, but it is life of the wrong kind. A director knows by this stage of rehearsal whether something is good or bad. This is bad--but I have to go on pretending to the cast.

Then, on "Wednesday 29 November":

New York: The notices of Via Galactica are universally terrible. The show loses on Saturday. Galt McDermott . . . doesn't seem too disturbed. He liked what we ended up with.

I didn't. I am not ashamed of the production as it now stands. But it is far away from the dream I dreamed. The script was never right and still isn't. It was and is a fine score. However, i you can't have a monumental sucess, I suppose you may as well have a monumental failure. This is it. 

The show was the first one produced at the spacious new Uris Theatre, now the Gershwin Theatre, a modernistic, 1,850-seat venue designed by Ralph Alswang. Many agreed that, apart from Raul Julia, the theatre was better than the show.

Do you enjoy Theatre’s Leiter Side? As you may know, since New York’s theatres were forced into hibernation by Covid-19, this blog has provided daily posts on the hundreds of shows that opened in the city, Off and on Broadway, between 1970 and 1975. These have been drawn from an unpublished manuscript that would have been part of my multivolume Encyclopedia of the New York Stage series, which covers every show, of every type, from 1920 through 1950. Unfortunately, the publisher, Greenwood Press, decided it was too expensive to continue the project beyond 1950.

Before I began offering these 1970-1975 entries, however, Theatre’s Leiter Side posted over 1,600 of my actual reviews for shows from 2012 through 2020. The first two years of that experience were published in separate volumes for 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 (the latter split into two volumes). The 2012-2013 edition also includes a memoir in which I describe how, when I was 72, I used the opportunity of suddenly being granted free access to every New York show to begin writing reviews of everything I saw. Interested readers can find these collections on Amazon.com by clicking here. 

Next up: The Visit.


Thursday, May 20, 2021

565. VERONICA'S ROOM. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Arthur Kennedy, Eileen Heckart. (Photos: Martha Swope.)

VERONICA’S ROOM [Drama/Crime/Death/Mystery] A: Ira Levin; D: Ellis Rabb; S: Douglas W. Schmidt; C: Nancy Potts; L: John Gleason; P: Morton Gottlieb; T: The Music Box; 10/25/73-12/29/73 (73)

Note: Because of a mix-up in the manuscript, the alphabetical order followed by this series was disrupted when I skipped the V section and jumped to the W’s instead. Today’s entry returns to the V’s and will get to the rest of the W’s, not to mention the Y’s (there are no X’s and Z’s) in due time.

Arthur Kennedy, Eileen Heckart, Regina Baff, Kipp Osborne. 

A young woman named Susan (Regina Baff), out at restaurant with a new boyfriend (Kipp Osborne), meets an elderly servant couple (Arthur Kennedy and Eileen Heckart). Susan is convinced by them to come to their home near Boston, where their senile old employer, a woman, is dying, and to impersonate her long-dead sister, Veronica, whom Susan closely resembles. Susan goes along, dresses in Veronica’s 1930s clothes, and prepares to meet the old lady, but finds instead that she is locked in her room, that the servants are Veronica’s parents, that the boyfriend is a psychiatrist of sorts, that everyone behaves as if it were 1935 instead of 1973, and that she cannot convince them of the contrary. Finally, beaten and stripped naked, she is carried away by the young man for some unnamed, but clearly foul, purpose.

Implausibility, poor construction, timeworn dramatic devices, and vague motivations were among the charges leveled at the play, written by one of the most successful mystery writers of the era (Rosemary’s Baby, Deathtrap). An appropriately spooky Gothic design scheme and four capable performers—two with significant name recognition and professional respect—could not rescue this unthrilling thriller from such barbs as Jack Kroll’s: “It is laughably mechanical and as embarrassing as a sunken-eyed, foul-breathed English professor confiding his sado-masochistic dreams in the college cafeteria. . . . Levin mucks up; such pristine ingredients as incest, insanity, ritual murder and necrophilia.”

A program note requested that theatregoers not disclose the plot. Clive Barnes responded, “Their secret will be safe with me. There were times when it looked pretty much safe with the playwright.”

Barnes said of the acting, “As Susan or Veronica, Regina Baff was most impressive. She beat against fate like a spunky little sparrow, and her mixture of frenzy, and reason was nicely judged. Eileen Heckert and Arthur Kennedy are very polished as her friends and tormentors. Miss Heckert is malicious in her modulation, throwing away asides with acidulated panache, and Mr. Kennedy, more bluff and blustering, provides her with a subtle contrast. Kipp Osborne as the young man in Susan's life, perhaps goes too far at the end. But then so did the young man.”

Regina Baff was Tony-nominated as Best Supporting Actress, Play, and Douglas W. Schmidt won a Drama Desk Award as Outstanding Scenic Designer.

Do you enjoy Theatre’s Leiter Side? As you may know, since New York’s theatres were forced into hibernation by Covid-19, this blog has provided daily posts on the hundreds of shows that opened in the city, Off and on Broadway, between 1970 and 1975. These have been drawn from an unpublished manuscript that would have been part of my multivolume Encyclopedia of the New York Stage series, which covers every show, of every type, from 1920 through 1950. Unfortunately, the publisher, Greenwood Press, decided it was too expensive to continue the project beyond 1950.

Before I began offering these 1970-1975 entries, however, Theatre’s Leiter Side posted over 1,600 of my actual reviews for shows from 2012 through 2020. The first two years of that experience were published in separate volumes for 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 (the latter split into two volumes). The 2012-2013 edition also includes a memoir in which I describe how, when I was 72, I used the opportunity of suddenly being granted free access to every New York show to begin writing reviews of everything I saw. Interested readers can find these collections on Amazon.com by clicking here.