Thursday, June 3, 2021


Grayson Hall, Fran Brill, Ronald Drake, Michael Goodwin. (Photo: Martha Swope.)
WHAT EVERY WOMAN KNOWS [Dramatic Revival] A: James M. Barrie; D: Gene Feist; S: Holmes Easley; C: Charles Gelatt; L: Ian Calderon; M: Philip Campanella; P: Roundabout Theatre Company; T: Roundabout Theatre (OB); 5/28/75-7/27/75 (75)

There were few critical voices protesting this revival of British author James M. Barrie’s (Peter Pan) sentimental 1908 play about a wonderfully shrewd though plain young Scotswoman, Maggie Wylie (Fran Brill). Maggie keeps to the background, yet, in her quiet, giving way, controls the destiny of the penniless man she agrees to marry, the politically ambitious but fatuous John Shand (Michael Goodwin). The comedy demonstrated an intrinsic charm that even a less-than-inspiring performance failed to dim.

Clive Barnes, describing he work as “a prime example of the bad well-made play,” nevertheless claimed its craftsmanship was “very respectable.” It was the work’s vapidity that irked him to the point of pronouncing it “stillborn as a modern classic.” John Simon, however, loved its canny contrivances, sweetness “laced with bitter cognizance,” and timely viewpoint.

Gene Feist’s direction—rarely appreciated—was straightforward and unimaginative, but it allowed the play to emerge on its own terms, without intrusive frills. Edith Oliver said the period feeling was intact in the simple, direct mounting. The sets and costumes were attractive, but the acting was a bit bumpy, particularly when it came to the required Scotch burrs. 

Fran Brill was too pretty and charming for the dowdy, charmless Maggie—a charge that could be leveled at other stars in the role, like Maude Adams and Helen Hayes—but her performance was superior to those of her supporting company. Those thespians included Jeff Rubin, Jack Bittner, Ron Frazier, Susan Tabor, Ronald Drake, and, perhaps the best known, Grayson Hall.

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 These have been drawn from an unpublished manuscript that would have been part of my multivolume Encyclopedia of the New York Stage series, which covers every show, of every type, from 1920 through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: What the Wine-Sellers Buy.