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 From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975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 These have been drawn from an unpublished manuscript that would have been part of my multivolume Encyclopedia of the New York Stage series, which covers every show, of every type, from 1920 through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 by clicking here. 

Next up: Wedding Band.