A retired janitor clad in a rumpled uniform slouched down in his seat, concerned that some familiar face might spot him there and tattle to his wife. He said he felt a "bit out of place," uncomfortable in the young and couple-dominated crowd that descended upon the dilapidated Harvard Square Theater moviehouse to see the much-discussed nude revue that opened this particular night. "I never believed it could be happening--right in front of my own eyes," he muttered, shaking his head during intermission, still stuck to his ant's-eye-view fifth-row-aisle seat. "Ah, the nudity you get used to--but the whole thing. It's pretty booooold."
With that last word, his voice dropped to a self-conscious whisper. Guilt overcame him, guilt for the alias he felt inclined to present his wife. He recalled his childhood days when women on beaches were prohibited from exposing full thighs and shoulders, a memory which rendered "Oh! Calcutta!" one realized fantasy after another. Kenneth Tynan, the producer of the show when it first opened on Broadway, could have asked or hoped for no more, except an audience of 1649 more 68-year-olds who found the show something more than an evening's humorless, innocent diversion.
At least there were the memorable fights over seats for the ticket holders who were delegated to the rear of the cavernous theater, where the seat numbers have been obliterated over 60-odd years. For the others, there were only yawns and bitterness, bitterness toward the bunch of shrewd entrepreneurs who packaged the show so craftily that the dated goods--eight years after opening on Broadway--sells out every night in every city on the road company's itinerary.
And at this point, while the reverberations of the clash that accompanied the show's Broadway opening are still sifting across the country, there is very little the entrepreneurs need do to sustain ticket sales. The memory of the ruckus--along with a four-letter word beginning with "n"--is all it takes. Beyond that, not many people who'd been clattering about the show before it opened Wednesday knew much about it. Not even the city councilors, who wanted to go on record as having opposed the granting of a license, had much idea what they were trying to ban. Mavor Alfred E. Vellucci (who was actually in favor of granting the theater a license to show "Calcutta") kept referring to the mystery show as a movie. Councilor Leonard Russell kept denouncing the "Combat Zone type of show" as one that would "threaten the lives of hundreds of children."
In Cambridge, a city where obscenity laws are vague but strong religious and moral feelings persist, there was bound to be a stir over the live, staged nudity. But for those who went as well as those who didn't, the show's nudity and all it provoked was the best thing, if not the only thing, the show had going for it. Unfortunately, Tynan and his company blew the chance to capitalize on the show's greatest asset. They finish the disrobing number three minutes after the curtain rises, lining the cast up in full nudity under cool white lights Supposedly, this was not faulty planning, buy rather a means to achieve the righteous social and artistic ends the show aims for. There they stand, stark naked, and we're supposed to say, "This is it, now let's get on with the show."
And then there is nothing but unsophisticated burlesque, a flimsy bit of cold-cut sandwiched between skits and songs of stale humor. It is impossible to tell, from the program, which of the authors from the all-star line-up that wrote the show--Jules Feiffer, John Lennon, Dan Greenburg, Tennessee Williams--goes with which skit. The idea behind the anonymity is to avoid invasion of the writer's privacy and sexual fantasy. For the most part, Tynan would have done better if he had worried instead about the literary reputations of his writers. Seventh graders and Science Center graffiti writers could put them to shame.
When a bobbing, smiley middle-aged swinger lures a reticent and married prospect into her arms, she perks, "Hey! This is the age of the sex revolution. There is nothing to be nervous about." She is wrong. "Oh! Calcutta!," with its literary, artistic, and socially edifying pretensions, is proof of the pudding. "Oh! Calcutta!" was originally touted as a daring effort to bridge the gap between life, love and the art that reflects them. But in trying to pass itself off as sophisticated theater, "Calcutta" does nothing more than mock its own ticketholders. At Harvard Square, a sucker is bored every minute.