|Glynn Turma, Dick Anthony Williams, Loretta Greene, Marilyn B. Coleman. (Photos: Friedman-Abeles.)|
WHAT THE WINE-SELLERS BUY [Drama/Drugs/Family/Prostitution/Race] A: Ron Milner; D: Michael Schultz; S: Santo Loquasto; C: Judy Dearing; L: Martin Aronstein; P: New York Shakespeare Festival Lincoln Center; T: Vivian Beaumont Theatre; 2/14/74-3/17/74 (37)
The first Black play to be produced at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre, What the Wine-Sellers Buy was originally done Off Broadway and then in Los Angeles. It was given under Joseph Papp’s problematic management during his maiden season at Lincoln Center, during which he tried to bring his socially- conscious producing style to the elites that made up Lincoln Center’s audience base.
An episodic work of “elementary design,” according to Walter Kerr, this was a sentimental, conventional morality tale of good versus evil, set in a Detroit ghetto, telling of the good boy, Steve (Glynn Turman), sidetracked by temptation as represented by the cool, Mephistophelian hustler Rico (Dick Anthony Williams). Steve, needing money for his mother, considers becoming a drug dealer, even being willing to make his adoring girlfriend, Mae (Loretta Greene), a prostitute. Eventually, the significance of his behavior dawns on him and he is able to resist Rico’s ministrations.
Lack of originality was a weak spot noted by Clive Barnes, but he was impressed by the playwright’s lifelike representation of the ghetto milieu, his language, and his characterizations. Milner’s simplistic, righteous, schematic moralizing disturbed Kerr: “A debating society regularity haunts the play.” John Simon and others criticized the effort for its having “only its blackness to set it off from a thousand other such” attempts.
An able company of 23, including Garrett Morris, Marilyn B. Coleman, and Sonny Jim Gaines, smoothly directed by Michael Schultz in a Tony-nominated Santo Loquasto setting, was led by the flashy capering of the dynamic Dick Anthony Williams as the satanic pimp. Williams landed a Tony nomination for Best Supporting Actor, Play, as well as a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance.
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 These have been drawn from an unpublished manuscript that would have been part of my multivolume Encyclopedia of the New York Stage series, which covers every show, of every type, from 1920 through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.
Next up: What’s a Nice Country Like You Doing in a State Like This?