Sunday, June 13, 2021


Helen Hanft, Steven Davis, Mary Carter. 

WHY HANNA’S SKIRT WON’T STAY DOWN [Comedy/Fantasy/Women] A: Tom Eyen; D: Neil Flanagan and Tom Eyen; S: T.E. Mason; C: Patricia Adshead; L: Gary Weathersbee; P: Michael Harvey in the Theatre of the Eye Company 1974 Production; T: Top of the Village Gate (OB); 7/1/74-10/27/74 (137)

Alix Elias, Carleton Carpenter in What Is Making Gilda So Gray? (Photo: Zarko Kalmic.)

This play represents two-thirds of a trilogy called The Three Sisters of Springfield, Illinois, the third part of which was performed with the first two for 12 performances from October 1, 1974. The third part, What Is Making Gilda So Gray? (or, It Just Depends on Who You Get ), was performed alone, beginning September 17, 1974, at the Top of the Village Gate, for 15 performances. All of the material had been staged several times Off-Off Broadway (with most of the same actors) since 1965. The Gilda of the third piece is the sister of Hanna and Sophie, whose characters are linked in the first two playlets (produced as a single play). Confused? Me too. 

A campy, episodic, surrealistic fantasy about a Forty-second Street  movie theatre ticket seller named Hanna O’Brien (Helen Hanft), the play takes place in a Coney Island funhouse, where Hanna gets her thrills by standing over the blowhole in the floor that tosses her skirt high and also lifts her spirit. Other characters include Sophie (Mary Carter; succeeded by Madeleine le Roux), her hated, bald, Avon saleslady sister from New Jersey; a narcissistic young man on  a trapeze named Arizona (Steven Davis); and the funhouse barker (three actors: William Duff-Griffin [succeeded by Joseph C. Davies], Neil Flanagan, and Jerome Eyen).

Well-acted and staged, the comedy proved fairly popular in its Off-Broadway mounting. Clive Barnes said the writing was not particularly clever, but was effectively “atmospheric” and “evocative.” He added that “Its humor is corny, its message banal, but the dog-eared reality to its fantasy and its sense of wasted freak-show lives in a crumbling, neon-lit side-show give the play an aftertaste and a validity.” Others found it amusing, witty, and generally worth the price of admission.

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: Wild and Wonderful.