Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Grayson Hall in THE BALCONY, 1960

Frank Shaw Stevens, F.M. Kimball, Grayson Hall, Alex Primrose and Al Viola in THE BALCONY.

Grayson Hall made her acting debut in the 1960 production of Jean Genet's THE BALCONY.

Granted, the former Shirley Grossman had been acting professionally for many years before this. But THE BALCONY marked the first appearance of the stage name. By all accounts, the production was a success. THE BALCONY ran for 672 performances at the Circle in the Square theatre in Greenwich Village before closing in December, 1961. It also won three Obie awards that year in the categories of "Best Foreign Play," "Distinguished Performance (Actress)" for Nancy Marchand, and "Sets."

Originally published in 1956 as "Le Balcon," THE BALCONY is made up of nine scenes, the majority of which are set inside the Grand Balcony Bordello. Taking place shortly after a revolution in an unnamed European locale, the bordello's staff and patrons attempt to restore order by posing as the leaders of the fallen city. It's probably funnier than it sounds.

It was Hall's highest profile role to date, and she won quite a bit of notoriety in New York City thanks to its success. Some of her press coverage appeared in ... unlikely places, though. The best read piece was a wire story that focused on her participation in a discussion about THE BALCONY that took place at Memorial Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn. The church conducted monthly church-theater symposiums, and in July, 1960, Hall was their featured guest.

"For more than a hour, Miss Hall and some 25 church goers exchanged views about the meaning of the play over glasses of ices tea and cookies," wrote Tom Henshaw, a religious writer for the Associated Press. (I'd argue that this might also be the most amazing sentence ever crafted in the English language.)

Her appearance in THE BALCONY also earned Hall a mention in another weird wire item:
"Ethel Merman's contract with 'Gypsy' gives her the use of a Cadillac limousine. Grayson Hall, who plays the leading role in the off-Broadway hit, 'The Balcony,' hear of the limousine clause; He went to his producer, Ted Mann, and asked: 'Can't I have even a Vespa?"
Yes, the writer of that piece read the name "Grayson Hall" and assumed the actor was a man. Journalism!

Below are a scattering of images, press clippings and other ephemera from that production of THE BALCONY.

Actress Sylvia Miles, producer Lucille Lortel, and Grayson Hall.

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