Friday, June 21, 2013

David Selby in THE ECCENTRICITIES OF A NIGHTINGALE, 1976

Betsy Palmer and David Selby in the 1976 performance of THE ECCENTRICITIES OF A NIGHTINGALE.
THE ECCENTRICITIES OF A NIGHTINGALE was a revised production of a TENNESSEE WILLIAMS play originally titled SUMMER AND SMOKE. If you're familiar with the works of Williams, you can probably guess many of the themes and situations featured in the story: Set in Mississippi in the early 20th century, NIGHTINGALE centers on a tumultuous romance between an unmarried minister's daughter and a roguish young doctor. I'm not familiar with the story, but I expect it ends badly for all involved.

New York Times art by Al Herschfeld.
The play was adapted at least twice in 1976, once as a TV movie with future Dracula FRANK LANGELLA, and another on Broadway with DAVID SELBY and BETSY PALMER. ("It) was the last show that Tennessee Williams had anything to do with while he was still alive, and it was beautiful working with him," Palmer told the website ICONS OF FRIGHT. Even though she has a long and varied acting career that spans several decades, Palmer is probably best known to audiences today as Pamela Vorhees in the original FRIDAY THE 13th.

(Interestingly, PALMER previously appeared in the 1964 play, ROAR LIKE A DOVE, which featured one JONATHAN FRID as an assistant stage manager and understudy to several lead roles.)

In his book MY SHADOWED PAST, Selby said SUMMER AND SMOKE had been subjected to so many revisions that NIGHTINGALE "was really a new play."

"I don't see how you could help loving that man," Selby said of Tennessee Williams. "I did love him. One night in Los Angeles, at the opening of his play OUT CRY, Tennessee greeted me with a big wet kiss on the lips. I returned it -- grateful to have had him, if only briefly, in my life."

NIGHTINGALE lasted only 28 performances, a number which includes four previews. I was unable to find any contemporary reviews of the production, but the creator of the blog RICK ON THEATER had this to say about the production:
The Broadway premi√®re had something of a curious history itself. Betsy Palmer and David Selby headed the cast of a summer-stock production of Eccentricities. Originally directed by Jeffrey Chambers, this production had problems with its design, direction, and some of the supporting cast. Neal Du Brock, Executive Director of the Studio Arena Theatre in Buffalo, took over for the last month of the tour. “The play was being buried under props and scenery,” Du Brock complained. He repackaged the production with the same stars but replaced half the supporting cast and remounted the production at the Studio Arena from 8 October to 6 November 1976. Du Brock brought in Edwin Sherin to replace Chambers and a Broadway-quality design team to redo the sets and costumes. When he turned the direction over to Sherin, Du Brock ordered, “[T]hrow it all out and do it on an empty stage.” The producer wanted “to let the actors speak and not have all that other stuff cluttering things up,” and the result was a spare, almost minimalist production. Sherin, harking back to his 1968 attempt on Long Island, averred, “I think some vibrations are set off, and the play’s effects are felt years and years later.”

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