Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Writer Sees His Play at Hanna

Cleveland Press October 16, 1967

"The movies give people the impression that a playwright writes a play on a Ouija board in the dark of night while drunk and that he is someone who looks like Orson Bean."

So says playwright Robert Anderson who writes his plays in a house in Connecticut and who looks nothing like Orson Bean.

Anderson is the author of the Broadway comedy success "I Can't Hear You When the Water's Running" which opens tonight at the Hanna with Eddie Bracken. Anderson's other plays include the highly successful "Tea and Sympathy," "All Summer Long" and "Silent Night, Lonely Night" plus seven screenplays including "The Nun's Story" and "Sand Pebbles."

HE HAS BEEN in town to watch rehearsals of his play by the new company, and will remain through the opening. He visits his plays often during a New York run, often weekly.

"Most people don't realize it, but a playwright has a great deal of control over his play. The writer's contract gives him approval of director, cast, set designer, even lighting," he explained.

"It's not right for a playwright to complain about the production of his play under the circumstances.

"I KNOW MANY playwrights can't stand to see their work on stage so they just pass notes to the director."

Anderson said that writing for the movies gives him eating money so that he can work for the theater which is more satisfying but more precarious.

"Sometimes there are two years between the writing and the producing of a play. If it's a hit then you pay taxes on it all at once.

"You can make a killing but you can't make a living in the theater."

LOOKING at the current season in New York which has seen six closings out of the first eight openings, Anderson says that the big problem is cost. He points out that putting on a show is so expensive that producers often don't provide enough money to carry the show through a couple of weeks of only fair business.

The result, he points out, is that if a show isn't a smash hit the night it opens it closes immediately.

"This play cost $125,000 to launch," he said. "Tea and Sympathy" cost $45,000 in 1953.

"A FRIDAY NIGHT opening and a Saturday closing is pretty humiliating for a playwright. And it's terrible for the theater's image. People think we're shooting dice."

Despite the precarious state of the theater, Anderson's next play, "I Never I Sang With My Father," will open in January with Hal Holbrook and Teresa Wright, who is Mrs. Anderson in private life.