Friday, April 20, 2012

Jonathan Frid in THE MOON IN THE YELLOW RIVER, 1961

Jonathan Frid quite liked Shakespeare, even if his relationship with The Bard was usually overstated by the Dan Curtis Productions marketing department. Oddly, Mitchell Ryan performed in more of Shakespeare's plays than Frid, whose career featured a great many contemporary comedies and thrillers. But Dan Curtis rightfully believed that exaggerating Frid's experience with classic theater brought a certain gravitas to the role of Barnabas Collins. Introducing a vampire into an on-going soap opera in 1967 was going to be a tough sell. But a vampire played by a classically trained actor? Those press notices practically wrote themselves.

Below is a review of the 1961 production of THE MOON IN THE YELLOW RIVER, a play featuring James Coco and Frid. The play had 48 performances in the East End Theater, with Frid getting a favorable nod from The Village Voice, which you can read in its entirety below. The review was published Feb. 16, 1961.

The play by Denis Johnston, presented by David Fulford and William Dempsey at the East End (formerly Downtown) Theatre.  Directed by Mr. Fulford.

"The Moon in the Yellow River" is an excellent, forceful, if heavily cerebral play by Denis Johnston, now in a well-acted revival under David Fulford 's direction at the East End Theatre. I shall unjustly award it scant space here only because it seems more important to give most of the week's coverage to a newer work that may have larger need for the encouragement.

Men vs. Machines 
"The Moon in the Yellow River” probes to the depths our century’s massive conflict between man and his machines, particularly his more infernal machines. Set in rural Ireland and peopled with comic and serious Irishmen — and one Austrian, an engineer named Tausch — it is definitely not an Irish play per se. It is a play about the perpetual three-way war between the romantic and the scientific temperaments on the one hand, the exploratory and disillusioned temperaments on the other. A second engineer named Dobelle — embittered by the loss in childbirth his wife—can only sit and play with toy electric trains and sneer equally upon the fervor of Tausch for his powerhouse and that of Darrell Blake, Byronesque revolutionary, in seeking to blow the powerhouse to smithereens. Then the State intervenes, heavy-handedly, in the person of Commandant Lanigan — and the revolutionist is suddenly, shockingly, removed from the equation. "Oh Got," cries Tausch after the event, "vy must Mr. Blake be against me and Commandant Lanigan on my side.” His host Dobelle merely spread distributionist sarcasm on the wounds and ashes and sets his little electric train buzzing on its eternal circlings.

Then fate intervenes—once again with a shock, but this time with the shock of ironic absurdity.  The rumblings of two old rummies — side characters not heretofore taken seriously — results in the powerhouse being blown to smithereens anyway. Even Dobelle is jolted out of his cynicism and back to the first tentative steps of caring for people and life. Amid all the jokes and shambles there is, as with O’Casey, the beauty and warmth of human values. Nobody wins. But at least Dobelle can begin to feel.

Solid Evening 
Roy Poole docs his best, quietest work in several years as Dobelle, the intellectual of bad will; James Coco is both ardent and persuasive as Tausch, the dedicated intellectual of great good will; James Greene is properly chill as Lanigan the gunman turned Free Slate commandant; Jonathan Frid is right fiery as the gallant but stupid would-be saboteur; all others in the company are of a par. A solidly stimulating evening. — J.T.

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