From the Shelf The Death of Broadway

432 pages: $6.95

GET A LOAD of this one:

Angela, a 48 year-old housewife living in an affluent Boston suburb, finds that her TV is on the fritz. She calls in a repairman to fix it. and she promptly has an affair with him. The repairman 23, also happens to be an inventor. Angela, whose husband is a military man and far away, decides to ?rap the inventor in her home until he comes up with the invention that will free him forever from TV-repairmanship. After three months. he does and leaves. Hubby comes home and a rejuvenated Angela begins her marriage anew.

Yes, get a load of that- that is the plot of the most recent play to open on Broadway. You can pay eight dollars to see it tonight in New York. It has a star (Geraldine Page), a pretty set, and cost $150.000 to put on. It opened Thursday night: with any luck it will run through next week: with a lot of luck. it will be sold to the movies. It will also make a few thousand people, those who happen to see it, very miserable for two hours. Most of those few thousand people may not come back to a Broadway theater for a long time. After a while, there may not be anything to come back to.

William Goldman, novelist ( Boys and Girls Together ) and screenwriter ( Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid ). spent a year hanging around Broadway and following shows like Angela from birth to death. He wrote a book about his experiences. The Season , and, If you care anything about the theater at all. there is every chance it will turn your stomach.


Goldman's book-chatty, opinionated and often nasty- finally says on paper all those things people in the business have been whispering for years: Goldman shows how theater-party ladies create big box-office receipts for shows involving no visible talent on the basis of a show's title ( How Now Dow Jones ); how a star can take over and destroy a $600,000 musical (Eydic Gorme and Golden Rainbow ); how critics mercilessly destroy the rare good Broadway play (Clive Barnes and I Never Sang for My Father ).

And more, Goldman shows how many of the large number of homosexual American playwrights write dishonest pieces of camp to manipulate heterosexual audiences. He explains the way producers pander to New York's large Jewish theatre-going audience. He writes about the egos (Mike Nichols) and the back-stabbers (Sandy Dennis), the ticket-scalping and the waste, the disasters ( Mate Hair ) and the hits (Plaza Suite).

Goldman offers no real solutions for saving Broadway (aside from petty reforms of financial odds and ends), and the only conclusion one can reach after reading his book is that within the next few years Broadway will be dead and buried.

THE CURRENT New York season bears that out. Fewer shows are opening on Broadway this year than have during any year since the war. And what has opened has been depressing.

Of the nineteen shows currently running on Broadway, only five are new this season. One John Osborne's A Patriot for Me. opened to mixed reviews and has been playing to sixty per cent of capacity: it is a big budget show and will probably close within the month. Another Three Men on a Horse is a thirties comedy revived to generally favorable reviews and miserable box-office. Jimmy, the lone musical. cost $900.000, opened to unanimous pans and will fold any minute at a total financial loss. Arthur Kop it's Indians, the most exciting and well received play of the season, has failed to arouse the kind of business necessary to establish it as a long-run hit. The other two productions are Angela and Butterflies Are Free , another commercial formula comedy and the only likely financial success so far. Only six more productions are scheduled for the rest of the season- four musicals, a new Neil Simon comedy, and a work by Irish playwright Brian Frill.

Nothing is happening because Broadway is too expensive these days to gamble with. The serious theatre-going audience has been scared away by the high ticket-prices and the high number of numbing commercial hits they have sat through for too many years. American playwrights have either deserted or been deserted by money-scared Broadway producers; they are going off or off-off Broadway- or into regional theatres like Washington's Arena Stage and Dallas' Margo Jones.

There is probably nothing to be done. Every day plans are being made to tear down Broadway theaters and replace them with parking lots and office buildings. Producers are going to the movies or the stock market or off-Broadway (where, oddly enough, ticket prices are now more or less at Broadway levels and the quick Broadway-style flop is becoming more and more common). A few years ago a producer had about a one-in-nine chance of coming up with a hit; now the odds are closer to twenty to one.

Eugene O'Neill. Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams and Edward Able did much (if not all) of their best work for the Broadway stage. Beckett received his first American production on one. Broadway was the place where technical aspects of the theater were developed to perfection. Broadway producers and directors were responsible for the creation of the musical, which, in such shows as West Side Story and Fiddler on the Roof, has proved to be the only uniquely American contribution to world theater. But all this now belongs to the past, And so does Goldman's book. It is best to read it. remember, shudder, forget and move on.