Theater Reviews by Morna

Theater Reviews by Morna

Morna Martell


Back in the 1980’s, when I was The Broadway Critic for The Hollywood Reporter, I reviewed a number of fabulous dramas that sadly bit the dust! The reason being that the NY Times critic dismissed these plays and they disappeared in short order. Here are my still vivid memories of two great works that deserve to be revived since their themes still resound today.



A Professor of English at U. Connecticut, this was Dulack’s first play and the NYTimes critic massacred him: “… isn’t the worst production of this limp Broadway season, but it just may be the most pointless. The evening’s nonfiction subject – fanatical cults of the Jim Jones ilk – has already been examined ad infinitum in print, movies and television programs. The play’s author, Tom Dulack, has nothing new or enlightening to say about this phenomenon and little discernible facility for playwriting.” The show closed after 4 performances.


Actually, the story was wildly contemporary for the 1980’s, with a desperate couple hiring a renowned de-programmer to kidnap their son and rescue him from the cult he has joined. The young man is a match for the cynical adults since their arguments and threats cannot pierce his rejection of all their values. In the end nothing can keep him from re-joining his fellow dropouts except one thing. The door is open, he can leave, but mockingly his captor has left a classical record – Rachmaninoff? Tchaikovsky? – playing as dawn is breaking. The boy’s decision had the audience in shocked emotional silence for perhaps 60 seconds.


Happily, Tom Dulack went on to write more Broadway plays and received The Kennedy Center’s New American Plays Award, and The Kaufman and Hart Prize for New American Comedy. Prolific director John Tillinger had brought this play to Broadway from Long Wharf Theatre, Connecticut and four years later I met him at Sardi’s Tony Awards Gala. When I told him that I considered “Solomon’s Child” one of the best plays I ever reviewed he lit up and thanked me for helping heal the wound he suffered after its harsh rejection.



Here in 1984 was an intriguing and passionate play exploring the capacity for evil in all of us. Using a unique way of pursuing his theme, Kopit made it seem almost autobiographical, with John Shea as stand-in for himself. A mysterious man offers a playwright unlimited wealth if he will write a play about the nuclear crisis. “Why me?” asks the playwright? The man explains “your greatest trait is innocence” yet he perceives in him ”a thorough understanding of evil.” Told in three acts, this culminates in one carefree scene when the playwright realizes that even he is capable of committing an unthinkable crime.

The play, directed by Harold Prince, was dismissed by the NYTimes critic who clearly missed the point. In spite of other perceptive reviews, and even though the audience reaction was again a stunned silence followed by wild applause, it closed after 33 performances. A Theater Legend: I heard that Arthur Kopit was outside the Music Box Theatre as “End Of The World” was closing and the critic, Frank Rich, passed by. Kopit chastised him saying that when they were in Harvard together Rich had passion for theater that spoke to justice and saving mankind and now he had sold out! Rich, now the illustrious NY Times critic, just gave an enigmatic smile and went on by. Wish I coulda been there…

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