Thursday, May 6, 2021

552. U.S.A. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Leah Chandler, Norman Snow, Mary Lou Rosato. (Photo: Diane Gorodnitzki.)

U.S.A. [Dramatic Revival] AD: Paul Shyre; SC: John Dos Passos’s novel, U.S.A.; D: Anne McNaughton; C: John David Ridge; L: Joe Pacitti; P: City Center Acting Company; T: Good Shepherd-Faith Church (OB): 10/1/72-10/28/72 (3)

Paul Shyre’s 1959 adaptation of John Dos Passos’s panoramic trilogy of the 1930s documenting American social and political currents was revived as one of six works in repertory by the young Actors Company, graduates of Juilliard, during their first New York season. Despite much criticism of their youth and lack of polish, they were impressive enough to convince Mel Gussow that they were “the finest repertory company performing in New York” (not that there was much competition for the honor).

Gussow thought the “impersonal and sprawling” documentary drama inadequate to the troupe’s talents, especially in the lack of meaty characters to impersonate. Staged by a recent fellow Juilliard alumnus, Anne McNaughton, it was done on a bare stage using stools, reading stands, and a piano accompaniment. Gussow told his readers to stay away, and John Simon advised that it “was mainly dreary.”

The company consisted of Leah Chandler, Benjamin Hendrickson, James Moody, Mary-Joan Negro, Mary Lou Rosato, Gerald Shaw, and Norman Snow. Set designer John Lee Beatty informs me that Gerald Shaw was actually Gerald Gutierrez, best known as a director, who disguised his Hispanic name by using Angela Lansbury's legal one, thus widening his casting opportunities, although he really was proud of his ethnic heritage.

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 These have been drawn from an unpublished manuscript that would have been part of my multivolume Encyclopedia of the New York Stage series, which covers every show, of every type, from 1920 through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 by clicking here.

Next up: Ulysses in Nighttown