Friday, June 18, 2021

596. WISE CHILD. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Lauren Jones, Donald Pleasance.
WISE CHILD [Comedy/British/Homosexuality/Transvestitism] A: Simon Gray; D: James Hammerstein; S: Peter Larkin; C: Jane Greenwood; L: Neil Peter Jampolis; P: Paul Alter; T: Helen Hayes Theatre; 1/27/72-1/29/72 (4)

George Rose, Donald Pleasance, Bud Cort.

A short-lived black comedy about a middle-aged gay criminal (Donald Pleasance) hiding out from the law by dressing in drag. He maintains his ludicrous masquerade, under the name Mrs. Artminster, with the aid of a potentially gay adolescent, Jerry (Bud Cort), who pretends that Mrs. Artminster is his mum. At the hotel in which they hole up is a prissy hotel manager, Mr. Booker (George Rose), who eyes the youth lasciviously, and a sexy Black maid, Janice (Lauren Jones), who soon becomes the object of the criminal’s attentions. In the end, Mrs. Artminster removes his female attire and Jerry chooses to turn transvestite, perhaps with the intent of acting his accomplice’s daughter.

The “uneven and erratic” comedy was “more murky than black,” thought Clive Barnes, and its plot and character development “hopelessly obscure,” added Walter Kerr. “The story is more ridiculous than amusing,” said Barnes, and Brendan Gill stated that the would-be farce was “an ugly and unpleasant amalgam of Joe Orton and Agatha Christie.” Douglas Watt, however, raved, calling the play “A wildly funny suspense farce, brilliantly set forth.”

English actor Donald Pleasance was nominated for a Tony as Best Actor for what Barnes called “a virtuoso 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 These have been drawn from an unpublished manuscript that would have been part of my multivolume Encyclopedia of the New York Stage series, which covers every show, of every type, from 1920 through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 by clicking here. 

Next up: The Wiz.