|F, Murray Abraham, Marion Paone, Robert Drivas.|
Thirty-year-old Tommy Flowers (Robert Drivas), who hails from dull St. Petersburg, Florida, makes it to New York, where he exists by flimflamming his way through life via one scam or another, including shoplifting. His story is told more in the style of revue sketches than as a conventionally structured play. Along the way he gets stoned on grass, has fitful relationships with an old stage ham (Wallace Rooney), an English sheepdog, and a pretty girl cellist (Kathleen Dabney, succeeded by Sally Kirkland), who also shoplifts; she and Tommy meet in the ladies’ room at Bloomingdale’s. Some of the narrative is presented on color film sequences projected on three screens over the stage.
Tommy views life through the medium of 1950s pop culture. He constantly drops names from that decade, and even does impressions of celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and James Dean. When this insistently anti-establishment fellow finally realizes what a loser he is, he plans to blow up himself and his surroundings with a homemade bomb.
There was much appreciation for Terrence McNally's mixed bag of comedy and social commentary, which previously had been produced by the Yale Repertory Company and the Berkshire Theatre Festival. However, not everyone was on board. A major complaint was that Tommy was never fully realized as a human being; aside from his wit, his topical references, and his geniality, he came off seeming more like an attitude than a man. “[H]e only exists in the hermetically sealed vacuum of the playwright’s imagination,” was how Clive Barnes expressed it. Richard Watts attacked the profanity and occasionally tasteless scenes, while T.E. Kalem pointed to the play’s lack of restraint.
Still, some thought the show had a wonderful comic personality, nimble dialogue, and hilarious characters. “I had quite a lot of fun at the play quite a lot of the time,” remarked Edith Oliver. And Douglas Watt praised it as “a boisterously funny, rueful, sentimental, raunchy and outrageous work.”
Robert Drivas was showered with strong notices in a role requiring a broad comic range. The production as a whole was considered excellent. Cast members included F. Murray Abraham, and Marion Paone. The play was selected for inclusion in Otis Guernsey, Jr.'s The Best Plays of the Year series.
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: Where’s Charley?