Friday, June 11, 2021

589. WHITSUNTIDE. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Elizabeth George, Dallas Alinder, Robert Molnar, Grace Carney, Celia Howard (front). (Photo: Richard Stone.)
WHITSUNTIDE [Drama/Religion/Sex] A: Tom La Bar; D: Russell Treyz; C: A.E. Kohout; L: John Dodd; P: Bert Steinberg and Howard Champion-Smith; T: Martinique Theatre (OB); 3/26/72 (1)

Originally done Off-Off Broadway, where it was well received, Whitsuntide was buried under an avalanche of negative responses when it moved to an Off-Broadway venue, forcing it to close after a single showing. It concerns a small-town Connecticut Episcopal congregation, ostensibly suffering from public and private stress. The congregants break out in an epidemic of speaking in tongues (glossolalia), usually during services. Sexual inhibitions vanish and fecundity is enhanced. The church thereupon attempts to impede the free flow of newfound life.

Mel Gussow wrote that “the playwright trips over his own tongue,” and Dick Brukenfeld faulted the play for relying on an arbitrary external force, God, to solve he congregation’s problems. The stereotypical characters were of little help in sustaining interest. John Simon, of all people, however, criticized the critics, pointing out that the play, problems aside, “had an amusing idea, some bright dialogue, a goodly number of apt performances, and very deft staging.”  

The ensemble included Michael Miller, Joyce Elliott, George DiCenzo, Susanne Watson, Grace Carney, Dallas Alinder, Celia Howard, Elizabeth George, Robert Molnar, and Alan Howard.

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 These have been drawn from an unpublished manuscript that would have been part of my multivolume Encyclopedia of the New York Stage series, which covers every show, of every type, from 1920 through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: Who’s Who in Hell.