Presented by Terese Hayden at Theatre 22, 54 W. 22 St., NYC, Sept. 25-Oct. 6.
Though no doubt well-intentioned and earnest, this recent marathon production of T.S. Eliot's difficult drama, "The Cocktail Party," was poorly conceived and insufficiently executed in most respects.
The play is problematic enough just by itself. The unemotional 1949 drama about a pair of frustrated couples, with some cold-hearted elders pushing things along, is utterly bereft of dramatic technique and very thin on characterization. It is also four hours long and full of the kind of odd philosophical meandering that may hold up in print, but is simply is not meant to be on stage. In short, it is a classic example of the kind of play that a poet or novelist writes simply on the basis of hubris. One wonders where the play would have ended up if an unknown, rather than a Nobel laureate, had written it.
The actors here are from the Saturday Workshop run by Jacqueline Brookes and Terese Hayden, and, presumably, Hayden thought this a good exercise for her charges. However, it's hard to see the point of asking these actors to take on a challenge this gigantic. Accordingly, it's not too surprising that many of the actors, with the exception of Brookes, have trouble establishing a rhythm and stumble on their lines. Doing best was Elizabeth Nafpaktitis, with reasonably solid command as Celia, and Roberta MacIvor, who held the stage well as Lavinia.
Not helping matters was Hayden's extremely spare direction. The actors moved very little during the long first act, sometimes remaining completely and inexplicably stationary for long stretches. Missed cues and long pauses abounded, hard to fathom in a four-hour play. And there was basically no set at all in the tiny space, meaning that the actors had to bear the burden of the flaccid dialogue in especially lonely, desperate fashion.