Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

This past season at the Play House is undoubtedly one that everyone would rather forget

Cleveland Press March 2, 1971

This past season at the Play House is undoubtedly one that everyone would rather forget-actors, audiences and reviewers alike.

Which is all the more reason to consider next year's season. No doubt this is the chief behind-the-scenes activity at the Play House right now.

The Play House, for all of its troubles, remains in the unique position of being able -- if it tries -- to be almost all things to all people. With three theaters available, a permanent acting company and 55 years of know-how it can be successful while filling a place in the community.

In recent years, however, it has seen itself out paced by community theaters and out-attracted by the touring commercial productions.

An underlying weakness in the Play House has been direction. There is little reason to see another run through of an old play unless the new production offers a fresh viewpoint and viewpoint is something provided by the play's director.

As for experimenting with new works, it takes a certain directorial daring and freshness to cope with them.

How about inviting some guest directors to the Play House next season?

Locally Reuben Silver at Karamu, Don Bianchi at Dobama and Joe Garry Jr. at Cleveland State have all demonstrated a flare for tackling the unusual-and this is a hasty naming of three that come readily to mind. There are others.

Couldn't the Play House reach out nationally as well? Is there some successful Broadway director who longs to do something special, something outside the range of his normal activity? A specialist in comedy who wants to do drama? A musical comedy man who has some fresh ideas about the classics?

Given a chance to do something special such a director may be willing to work for less than his usual fee.

Actor John Marley ("Love Story") directed here a few seasons ago. Could he be lured back for a few weeks to direct a favorite play?

And what about the choice of plays?

There is a vast area between the commercial blockbuster and the new or unfamiliar work, an area the Play House has neglected. Most of the Broadway hits play the Hanna, then they are warmed over once more by the Play House.

But there are fine plays that open in New York, have a decent run but which never tour. Lacking a star for box office value these are plays that never go out on the road. "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" was no flop in New York but it never traveled. The Peninsula Players, a non-professional group, tackled it last summer. The Play House, which has first call on every script released for local production, passed it by.

"Sleuth" is a current hit on Broadway, but it isn't likely that this British thriller will play outside of New York without its stars. Last year's Tony Award winner, "Child's Play," has closed after a long and successful run with no plans for touring.

These are solid, substantial plays that are worth doing and the Play House would be filling a need in presenting them. There's nothing wrong with duplicating a Hanna success but there are other things as well.

Peninsula Players also has announced for this summer "The Real Inspector Hound" by English playwright Tom Stoppard. This London hit never did play New York. Not a great play, it is nonetheless fresh and unusual. Where was the Play House when that slipped by?

The Play House has already demonstrated a willingness to do new plays and I assume this practice will continue. It should, for good business reasons as well as any other. The new plays have been among the most successful they have presented.

The current offering of "Beyond the Fringe" ought to give the Play House powers something to consider. The topical revue requires a small cast and virtually no set. It is cheap to do, fun to watch.

Why not an original topical revue?

There is an abundance of material both nationally and locally. Imagine what could be done with the Cleveland political scene alone!

The talent is there. All it needs is encouragement.

Aside from these artistic considerations the Play House should take a hard look at its scheduling.

The season has been starting later and later in October. There isn't a thing wrong with early October or even the last week in September.

At the end of the season there is a great gap between the winter theater and the summer theater schedules. Instead of stopping in April or early May, the Play House could run up to June 1. The demand is there but no one is filling it.

Extending the season means more than extra box office dollars. It means more employment for actors, making it that much easier to put an acting company together.

Cleveland may be losing actors to other cities with theaters that can offer longer seasons. When the season ends, so do the pay checks.

Even before audiences what a theater needs most is actors. A longer season is good for both.