Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Play House Receives an "A" for "Strong Are Lonely"

Cleveland Press November 4, 1967

"The Strong Are Lonely" opened last night at the Play House Euclid-77th Theater and the unfamiliar play proves to be a sturdy one with both emotional and intellectual appeal.

Aside from the delight in having the Play House deliver a good work that has not been done to death through overexposure, there is the added and very welcome pleasure in seeing this theater deliver a production of this high caliber.

The play was first produced in 1947 Vienna, has since been done through most of Europe and South America and then ran briefly in New York in 1953 in an adaptation by Eva Le Gallienne. It was written by the Austrian dramatist Fritz Hochwaelder.

The setting is a Jesuit community in Paraguay in 1767. There the black-robed fathers have converted the Indians to Christianity and have created a model community, a Utopia where everyone works and all share the wealth.

Their good fortune has been the subject of slanderous attacks from nearby Spanish colonists who have been deprived of slave labor and by priests of other orders who care less for the temporal well-being of their charges.

A king's deputy is sent to investigate the charges and though they are unprovable the decision to dissolve the model state has been made already.

"You are not guilty of any wrong," the deputy explains, "but guilty of being right and therefore you must be destroyed."

The Father Provincial of the community is faced with the dilemma of following his convictions and saving the people he has helped or of obeying his vow of obedience to the Jesuit order. Failure to comply also means the expulsion of the entire Jesuit order from Spain.

The play hammers home its parallels between 1767 and 1967 -- the problems of civil- rights, the inevitability of change, the question of violence vs. non-violence, the problem of conforming to the status quo, the subtle complexity of politics that turn right and wrong topsy~turvey.

In the case of the central character, the Father Provincial, it also probes personal motives -- whether he is truly concerned in creating a Kingdom of God or one of worldly prosperity; whether a decision that seems immoral can be justified on the basis of a sacred vow.

"The Strong Are Lonely," however, is no mere polemic. The structure of the play is not unlike a courtroom drama, and once a slightly talky beginning is out of the way it builds to a stunning first act curtain situation, then proceeds through a second act that accelerates the action.

Maury Cooper and Mario Siletti are nothing short of perfect as the Father Provincial and the king's deputy respectively.

Cooper has both the physical and the intellectual bearing to convey the feelings of a man whose soul is torn by his dilemma.

Siletti, who has played here in several early seasons of the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival, is perfect as the not unfeeling but completely pragmatic deputy. The performance is abundant in nuances without ever being overdone.

There is strong support from Allen Leatherman as a militant monk, Bob Moak as a musical monk and Vaughn McBride as a Dutch merchant.

The show has been staged with a 28-member, all-male cast and the Play House shows no lack of bench strength. Paul Rodgers has designed an effective and dramatic stage setting for the work.

Best of all is the direction of John Marley. He has managed to get the best from the play's dramatic moments without overdoing them.

It is strong and generally tight direction by a man who has grasped the play's meaning and problems and staged the work to serve them.