Monday, May 17, 2021

563. THE WATER HEN. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Joey Fitter, Wil Albert, James Cahill. (Photos: Alan B. Tepper.)

THE WATER HEN [Comedy/Family/Polish] A: Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz; TR: Daniel C. Gerould; D: Carl Weber; S: Fred Kouloch; C: Theodora Skipitares; L: Richard M. Devin; M: William Bolcom; P: Chelsea Theatre Center of Brooklyn; T: Chelsea Theatre, Brooklyn Academy of Music (OB); 5/9/72-5/28/72 (211)

Paul Sparer, Garn Stephens. 

Never before produced in New York, The Water Hen, a 1921 comedy by Polish avant-garde painter-writer Stanislaw Witkiewicz, who killed himself in 1939, is a surrealistic farce written in a potently imagistic style that preceded many of the theatricalist experiments of later years. Called “one of the maddest, yet oddly likable, plays ever penned,” by Clive Barnes, this offbeat, funny work was effectively staged by Carl Weber for Brooklyn’s Chelsea Theatre Center.

Dealing with dreams, revolution, and the theme of the disintegration of the old order in the face of the new, The Water Hen plays freely with time and space in a non-rational, nonlinear, plot about  an eternally fascinating, ever-younger woman named Elizabeth Gutzie-Virgeling (Garn Stephens), known as the Water Hen, who continued to bewitch a family over a period of three generations. While often humorous, its “tortuous” structure and “almost willfully careless” writing annoyed Barnes.

Paul Sparer, Joseph Leon, and Patricia Elliott were among the cast members.

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 These have been drawn from an unpublished manuscript that would have been part of my multivolume Encyclopedia of the New York Stage series, which covers every show, of every type, from 1920 through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