Miller Halts ‘L.S.D.’ Run
Anyone walking into a late November performance of L.S.D. at New York’s Performing Garage would have witnessed the arresting spectacle of 11 actors pantomiming 20 abridged minutes of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.
When L.S.D. was in its embryonic stages, the dumb show was not part of the plan. It was the penultimate shift in a year-long tug-of-war between Arthur Miller and the Wooster Group, in which the playwright repeatedly refused to sanction the inclusion of his play in the Wooster work. Miller’s threats managed to refine the Wooster Group’s artistic vision one day and blind their audiences to it the next, as the company first amended the show and then closed it In November of 1983, Miller attended a rehearsal of an in-progress version of L.S.D., which at the time contained 45 minutes of The Crucible.
It was not a straightforward rendering. The impact was intentionally frenzied: dialogue was speeded up, interrupted, spoken in gibberish. According to Wooster Group artistic director Elizabeth LeCompte, Miller enjoyed what he saw, but nonetheless denied them continued use of his play, fearing that it might inhibit future first-class productions.
LeCompte followed up Miller’s visit with a two-page letter which emphatically articulated the Wooster Group’s respectful intentions. “The Crucible stands for me like a beacon from my past, of a time when an artist could make clarity from confusion, make sense from nonsense, make a statement against a perceived threat from a force ‘outside’ of himself, an enemy from without. This, at least, is the myth my generation grew up with. The Crucible is as eloquent a testament to that belief as anything written.”
LeCompte went on to explain L.S.D. as an “historical journey” which would contrast the “naming names” refusal of Miller’s John Proctor and Giles Corey with parallel decisions made by such contemporary figures as G. Gordon Liddy and Timothy Leary.
“I want to use irony and distancing techniques to cut through to the intellectual and political heart of The Crucible, as well as its emotional heart,” LeCompte said. “I want to put the audience in a position of examining its own relation to this material as ‘witnesses’—witnesses to the play itself, as well as witnesses to the ‘story’ of the play.”
LeCompte did not hear directly from Miller again. She did receive a letter from his agents at I.C.M. which had been written the day before her lengthy justification, and which reiterated Miller’s permission denial, claiming once more that the Wooster production “would, among other things, tend to inhibit first-class productions in New York City of The Crucible.”
After a year’s reworking, LeCompte invited Miller’s agent to review the substantially revised L.S.D. Neither the agent nor Miller returned to The Performing Garage. Within three weeks of her invitation, LeCompte received a “cease and desist” order that commenced with the no-nonsense salutation “Gentlemen” and warned that “unless performances of L.S.D. are immediately and permanently discontinued, we will recommend to Mr. Miller that he take any and all legal measures against you.”
L.S.D. did not shutter at first. LeCompte fired off a letter to Miller acknowledging the “cease and desist” order. As she wrote, “To discontinue performances would of course jeopardize our livelihood, both artistically and financially. We therefore entreat you to come down to the Garage to see this work and to talk with us about it, before any further action on your part is taken.”
On Nov. 17, the Wooster Group went on with its performance of L.S.D., with one significant alteration: The Crucible sequence was performed minus dialogue, employing instead a fusion of pantomime and gibberish to convey meaning. A copyright lawyer in attendance at the request of the Wooster Group found nothing legally objectionable to the Group’s use of The Crucible, and agreed to be in touch with Miller’s lawyer.
LeCompte thought her treated L.S.D.—silent Tituba and all—was “great,” but finally yielded to the “cease and desist” order. On Sunday, Nov. 25, L.S.D. had its final performance. The move was less a response to Miller’s legal objections than it was to his aesthetic concerns. For Miller, it was primarily a question of playwright’s prerogative, and with L.S.D. closed, so has his legal recourse.
Contract Means N.Y. Salary Hikes
Representatives of Actors’ Equity Association and the League of Off Broadway Theatres and Producers announced agreement during October on a new pact—which, when ratified by the AEA membership, will govern operation of 36 New York City theatres including the New York Shakespeare Festival, Playwrights Horizons, Circle Repertory Company and Manhattan Theatre Club.
The new contract, which runs through Nov. 1, 1987, provides salary increases of between 3 and 11 percent in the five theatre categories. (Categories are determined by seating capacity and weekly income at the box office.) The weekly minimum salary will rise from $202 to $224 (11 percent) for theatres with 100-199 seats; from $249 to $275 (10 percent) for theatres with 200-250 seats; from $300 to $320 (6.6 percent) for 251-299 seats; from $366 to $385 (5 percent) fro 300-350 seats; and from $421 to $435 (3.3 percent) for theatres with 351-499 seats.
These salary increases apply only to the first year of the contract; increases in the second and third years of the agreement will be based on the cost-of-living index. Should box office income increase at any point during the three years, the weekly minimum in any production can be further raised.
The new contract also widens the provisions for job security when an Öff Broadway production is moved to a larger Broadway house. First, the transfer provisions (which guarantee that actors either keep their roles in the new production or receive three weeks’ severance pay) have been extended to embrace stage managers and understudies. Second, the provisions now cover productions moving from Off Broadway to larger theatres (using the Broadway contract or an equivalent) in other cities.
The new contract also contains stronger language, encouraging—though not requiring—“non-traditional casting.” The advisory clause promotes the casting of roles normally filled by white males—but not written specifically for them–with either women or minority actors.
You Can’t Take It to High School
Don’t expect to catch Baal at P.S. 164. Judging from the results of a recent poll conducted by the International Thespian Society, the most favored plays of American high school drama groups are resoundingly 1) American, 2) apolitical and 3) chaste.
Of the 64 full-length plays comprising the Thespian’s Top 20, there was a notable absence of plays in translation (sweeping Brecht, Molière and the Greeks into the same rejection heap). The only two playwrights who made it across the ocean and up the down staircase to school auditoriums were both English-speaking (Noel Coward and William Shakespeare), with one nod each for Blithe Spirit (10th place) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (16th place, a crowded perch shared with South Pacific, The Fantasticks, Ten Little Indians and Neil Simon’s Fools). The fourth wall was similarly sealed to works with direct political intent, save for an adaptation of Orwell’s squarely anti-totalitarian 1984 (7th place), and Arthur Miller’s historically distanced McCarthy allegory The Crucible (18th place, with Brigadoon).
The 64 high school hits were evenly distributed between straight plays and musicals, with You Can’t Take It With You leading the entire group as the most performed production and Once Upon a Mattress crowning the musicals. The only modest surprise in the list was the appearance of Elizabeth Swados’ musical Runaways, with its bristling evocation of adolescent drug use and prostitution. Runaways, taking 15th spot, nevertheless caused an uproar in East Montpelier, Vt., last February, when six students challenged a school board decision to prohibit the play. The student’s case, argued in Federal District Court, maintained that the prohibition violated First Amendment rights.
The attorney for the school board bluntly articulated the central issue that governs all school play decisions, asking “whether the taxpayers are going to have a curriculum decision made by the school board or the students.” Student impotency was reasserted, as the judge favored the board, and the production was halted. A school board member, when queried as to whether the students might pursue a production apart from the school, replied, “That’s not a school board matter. It’s a free country.”
Still, the recurrent popularity of the musicals Grease, Lil Abner and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, which all share a leering carnal sensibility, seems to indicate that—insofar as school boards are concerned—as long as the kids can hum to it (with tongue in cheek), sex is swell.
Less surprisingly, the most popular high school playwright—in terms of plays produced—was Neil Simon (represented on the list with Barefoot in the Park, Fools, The Good Doctor and God’s Favorite). If institutional prudery hugs its traditional path, the only Simon play bearing direct relevance to a high-schooler’s post-pubescent experience (Brighton Beach Memoirs) will remain in the same forbidden boat with Baal.
— Jan Stuart
What Kind of Play?
If theatre critics were consoled with a nickel for every review in which they were quoted woefully out of context, they would be at least as rich as the producers flailing to save their own shows: Until the early ’70s, critics and audiences alike had little protection from advertisement hyperbole which tossed crucial between-the-lines opinion to the wind. At that time, a New York State law was instituted to prohibit the misleading use of a quotation out of context in an advertisement.
For the first time since its inception 12 years ago, the law was invoked to halt a classic case of publicity derring-do. The play in question was a new Broadway comedy called Alone Together and critic Frank Rich was hardly alone in his desolate reaction. Rich’s notices in The New York Times and on WOXR radio reflected the generally tepid critical response, as he groaned about “the kind of play we hardly see on Broadway anymore…a flat-out television sitcom expanded to two hours.”
After producers waved their wands over Rich’s lament, the ads trumpeted the arrival of “The kind of play we hardly see anymore!” The hawks at New York magazine spotted the alteration and promptly alerted the Department of Consumer Affairs, who then charged the producers with violating the 12-year-old statute. At press time, producers Arnold Mittleman and Lynne Peyser of the Alone Together Limited Partnership faced fines of up to $500 for each time the adulterated quote appeared in an ad for the play. If critical response has any bearing on the ultimate fate of Alone Together, advertising expenditures will be a moot point.
For a Good Time Call…
It is a sign of changing times that the Personal Ads are rapidly displacing the funny pages and the obits as journalism’s favorite guilty pleasure. A savvy group at The Bay Area Theatre Alliance, ever on the lookout for dynamic new strategies for stimulating interest in San Francisco theatre, took heed. The result was a novel ad in the San Francisco Bay Guardian which playfully aped standard Personals dialect (“You are intelligent and discerning, you probably saw Michael Learned or Ed Harris on San Francisco stages before they became famous…”). The ad, which graciously eschewed the usual photo requirement that is the bane of most Personal Ad respondents, successfully seduced more than 70 Bay Area residents into sending in for subscription and program information on area theatre companies.
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