Yale Udoff

NY Times Review - A GUN PLAY

We introduce an exciting new playwright



NEW YORK, WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 3,1971 Theater: 'A Gun Play'

Udoff's Work Is Staged by Hartford Company

Special to The New York Times

HARTFORD — The first thing to be said about "A Gun Play," which is having its world premiere engagement at the Hartford Stage Company, is that its author, Yale M. Udoff, is a discovery. On the strength of this, his first professionally produced play, it is clear that he has a comic vision, verbal facility, and a contemporary consciousness. I suspect that even more will come later.

Mr. Udoff has chosen a somewhat overworked theme —violence in everyday life— but he has written a fresh and original comedy. Credit must go to Hartford Stage for finding the play, and to the Office for Advanced Drama Research of the University of Minnesota for leading Mr. Udoff to Hartford. With its bizarre humor, "A Gun Play" can not have been an easy play to choose, nor an easy play to stage—and Paul Weidner has staged it splendidly.

Hovering over the play is the' image of movies past, particularly gangster pictures of the thirties. The scene is a modern nightclub—a striking set by Santo Loquasto that covers the Hartford's thrust stage with deep piled crimson carpet, aluminum-trimmed walls, and a distorting mirror. The club looks both swanky and tacky.

One almost expects George Raft or James Cagney to come bursting in with pistol and sneer. Instead, the opening scene is like Grand Hotel, a dialogue between the maitre d', Orlando, and his sole waiter, Stan, before the customers bring the club to life, or as this play would have it—to death.

Oleaginous Orlando congeals a patronizing adapt­ability. He is whatever his customers want him to be, greeting them alternately, buona notte, bort soir, arriverderci. If that bland young couple tastes and re­fuses his spicy salad, like Jules Munshin he sweeps it off their table and serves it immediately—without even a toss-toss — to someone else. Stan, the subaltern, has problems. The cook is quitting. The wine cellar is flooding. He slogs on stage, holding a mop pail—even while serving — and wearing galoshes, later swapped for hip boots as water begins to engulf the upstairs.

The first outsider to arrive is a tight-lipped young man carrying a large case, which contains either a long squashed violin or a machine gun. He places it on his table.

Three couples enter, briefly sit at separate tables for two, then mix. They are quite ordinary (one lady writes a column called Trivia), but the atmosphere is full of hostility. Occasionally the aggression is physicalized: a model shoves her date, a stockbroker, out of his chair; the quiet man throws a coffee pot at the waiter.

The couples dance with twitchy exaggeration (which particularly delighted the student audience at the matinee I attended), change partners, then very naturally extend the parodied eroticism to floorplay, rolling on the ground to the beat of the music. Then, just as casually, they get up, brush themselves off, and the women slap the men.

Repeatedly the author catches the reality of a scene, then bends it slightly into the ridiculous. The man takes out his machine gun and sprays the ceiling. After a slight, initial start, the other guests admire the firearm and continue their business. They are as oblivious to the potential murderer among them as they are to the announcement on the waiter's transistor radio that a local butcher has cut and quartered four of his best customers.

At one point, as the customers banter, horror movies are shown, culminating with a flash of death in a concentration camp. Mr. Udoff is saying here, and throughout his play, not only that yesterday's horrors are today's trivia but also that today's horrors are today's trivia. These people are completely callous to violence even when it is aimed directly at them.

There is a felicitous pace to the production. Lasting just 90 minutes, it is played without an intermission, so that the menace and the comedy build mutually and naturally to a climax. The cast performs with an expert ease, like an improvisational ensemble. Particularly enjoyable are Charlotte Moore and Robert Moberly as the model and the broker, David O. Petersen as the waiter, and Henry Thomas as the imperious matire d' at the door.

1971 by The New York Times Company. Reprinted by permission.

The Casts
A GUN PLAY, a Plix bv Yale M. Udoff. Directed by Paul Weidner; setting by Santo Loquasto; costumes by Coleen Callahan; lighting by Larry Crimmins; stage manager, Fred Hoskins. Presented by the Hartford Stage Company, Hartford, Conn.
Stan ................. David 0. Peterscn
Orlando............... Henry Thomas
Wallace.................. Ted Graeber
Lita..................... Charlotte Moore
Linden................ Robert Moberly
Jack................... James Valentine
Norma.................... Darthy Blair
First motorcycle officer.......James Carruthers
George.................... Ron  Frazier
Melinda.................. Tana Hicken
Fashion model........Dolores Brown
2d motorcycle officer.......Cristopher Andrews
Young girl............ Robin Murphy
Johnni............... Michael Esterson