Monday, May 31, 2021

576. WE INTERRUPT THIS PROGRAM. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975


Marshall Borden, Albert Hall, Frederick Coffin, Taurean Blacque, Dino Shorte, Miller Lide, Stanley Brock, Lloyd Hollar, Tony Major, Dick Anthony Williams. (Photos: Martha Swope.)
WE INTERRUPT THIS PROGRAM [Drama/Crime/Mystery] A: Norman Krasna; D: Jerry Adler; S: Robert Randolph; C: Pearl Somner; L: Marc B. Weiss; P: Alexander H. Cohen; T: Ambassador Theatre; 4/1/75-4/5/75 (7)

Abby Lewis, John D. Seymour.

On paper, the idea behind this thriller must have seemed promising. Once on stage, though, it lacked conviction and was soon the victim of its fundamental implausibility. Written by the then 66-year-old Norman Krasna, who had had a distinguished career as a Broadway playwright and Academy Award-winning Hollywood screenwriter and director, the play begins as a conventional Neil Simon-ish comedy set in a New York luxury apartment. Soon, a gang of Black, stocking-masked thugs carrying machine guns and hand grenades comes roaring down the aisles announcing that the show is over and the audience and actors are being held hostage.

The leader of the gang, Al (Dick Anthony Williams), has staged this hijacking in order to force the cops to release his cop-killer brother, Sonny (Albert Hall), and supply a million dollars in cash to get him and his brother out of the country. He calls the mayor to make his demands. Audience plants get involved in the Pirandellian goings on, and eventually the plot is foiled.

Taurean Blacque, Frederick Coffin, Albert Hall, Dick Anthony Williams.

The major problem was in keeping the “hostage” audience attentive once the premise had been established. The devices introduced were bland and clich├ęd, and the exercise soon became tiresome. The hoodlums and everyone else were unable to seem anything but actors, and the same was true of the stooges. As Clive Barnes declared, 

You can identify with people in a disaster flick, whether they are about to frazzled, inundated or otherwise liquidated, but you cannot identify with a fiction of which you yourself are a part. You know that the actors who have taken over the theater are actors, you know that the stooges from the audience are plants, and you know that it is going to have a happy ending, inasmuch as you are going to get out. The worst fear you are likely to have is how long that will be.

Martin Gottfried said of this “contrived, obvious and clumsy” drama that it “is so bad . . . that it cannot be believed.”

Cast members included Holland Taylor, Brandon Maggart, Howard Rollins, Jr., Frederick Coffin, and a considerable number of others.

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 Amzon.com by clicking here. 

Next up: Welcome to Andromeda and Variety Obit.