American Theatre: A Chronicle of Comedy and Drama, 1969-2000 by Thomas S. Hischak

By Thomas S. Hischak

Quantity 4 of the prestigious American Theatre: A Chronicle of Comedy and Drama sequence deals an intensive, candid, and interesting examine the theater in ny over the last a long time of the 20 th century.

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Penelope Ryan (Marsha Mason) and her son Paul (Steven Paul) believe her husband, the macho explorer Harold, has died deep in the Amazon jungle, and she is trying to decide between two suitors: a doctor (Keith Charles) and a vacuum cleaner salesman (William Hickey). But Harold (Kevin McCarthy), to everyone’s surprise, returns, and on his birthday no less. ) Harold is a bragging, crude, mock-heroic fool who tries unsuccessfully to get his own son to shoot him to prove his masculinity. Harold even attempts a Hemingway-like suicide but cannot go through with it, leaving him a shallow and shattered man.

But when they go off for a pre-luncheon stroll, two slovenly, lower-class women (Mona Washbourne and Dandy Nichols) enter complaining and joking, and we realize that this is some sort of state-run home. The foursome meet, resulting in hilarious class discrepancies, and go off 24 Act One, 1969–1975: Getting Through by the Skin of Our Teeth together. But in the second act an obviously retarded adult (Graham Weston) enters, and the locale now defines itself as a mental institution. The foursome reenter, and soon we see that the genteel and chummy exteriors of the quartet disguise deep emotional scars.

The production itself was not very strong, and it would not be until the acclaimed 1986 revival that the play would get the recognition it deserved. All the same, the original ran off Broadway for 337 performances, won an Obie and a New York Drama Critics Award, and soon became a popular choice in regional and educational theatres. The Public had a surprise hit with Robert Montgomery’s Subject to Fits (2-14-71, Anspacher), an imaginative adaptation that was not so much a dramatization of Dostoevsky’s novel The Idiot but a “response” to it.

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