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