|Miriam Burton, Benjamin Masters, Diana Van Der Vlis, Charon Lee Cohen, Mary Hara, Earl Montgomery, William Roerick. Seated: Laura Esterman, Eli Wallach, Maia Danziger, Anne Jackson. (Photos: Martha Swope.)|
Brian Murray’s arena stage revival of Anouilh’s sparkling but cynical and melancholy 1952 comedy about an aging, lecherous general (Eli Wallach), his virago of an invalid wife (Anne Jackson, Wallach’s actual wife), and the general’s unrequited, 17-year love for a woman (Diana Van Der Vlis) he met in his youth, was received with considerable delight, albeit mixed with reservations.
|Anne Jackson, Eli Wallach, Benjamin Masters, Diana Van Der Vlis.|
The critics had only good things to say of the play itself, but reviews of the production ranged from Clive Barnes’s encomium, “iridescent,” to Martin Gottfried’s appraisal of it as “not first-class.” Murray’s deft staging succeeded in drawing the comedic qualities from the script, but there was some feeling that the underlying tone of despair had not been sounded. “[T]he result is like a pair of scissors with one blade dulled,” explained Edwin Wilson. John Simon and Harold Clurman (the latter having directed the first New York production in 1957) found the atmosphere insufficiently French. To Walter Kerr, Murray’s handling of the difficult Circle in the Square arena space was masterful, but Simon characterized the staging as “obtuse.”
Many were unable to forget the thrilling General St. Pé of Ralph Richardson nearly two decades earlier, but the consensus was that, technically limited as he may have been, Eli Wallach was often hilarious and just as often moving. “As the general, he does a thousand little things and enough big things to add up to a funny and touching performance that makes you like, quite properly, both actor and character,” commented Jack Kroll.
Those who disagreed thought the actor physically unsuited to the role’s requirements, which call for a commanding figure of a man. “He looks regrettably common,” sighed Simon. “[I]n a short red jacket over his striped army pants, you’d mistake him for a bellhop.” Anne Jackson, wrote Barnes, played “the termagant wife like a poisoned Isolde. She takes her one big scene and, looking like a kewpie doll with temper tantrums, makes it into a beautifully virtuosic thing.”
|Eli Wallach, Anne Jackson.|
Other cast members included Benjamin Masters, Laura Esterman, Maia Danziger, William Roerick, Mary Hara, Miriam Burton, Earl Montgomery, and Charon Lee Cohen.
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: Wanted.