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STAGE WIRE

London Critics Split On Shaffer's Play

February 01, 1986|DAN SULLIVAN | Times Theater Critic

Peter Shaffer's plays have become too popular for the London critics not to approach them with suspicion. Case in point: "Yonadab," Shaffer's new play at the National Theatre of Great Britain.

It's a big play, based on the Old Testament story of the rape of Tamar, King David's daughter, by her half-brother, Amnon--the whole thing engineered by their crafty cousin, Yonadab. Two critics--the Daily Mail's Jack Tinker and the Daily Telegraph's John Barber--admired its imagination and its ideas, and the New Statesman's Benedict Nightingale found he was beginning to be able to take Shaffer seriously as a playwright after all.

Otherwise, the reaction was a collective sniff.

"Perfumed biblical bosh trying to smell like something pungent and significant" (Milton Shulman, Standard). "Shaffer's technique is cold and calculating" (Christopher Edwards, The Spectator). "You can always tell what he's up to" (Jim Hiley, The Listener). "The ideas come before the people throughout" (Michael Ratcliffe, the Observer).

Peter Hall's staging and Alan Bates' performance as the crafty Yonadab--one of Shaffer's onlooker-heroes--got better marks, for their sheer theatricality. But there were sniffs here too, particularly for Bates. The Spectator's Edwards cited him for "irritating campery."

The Listener's Hiley put the matter quite frankly: "Shaffer makes critics feel superior."

As for Shaffer, he told the Associated Press' Matt Wolf that he was trying not to mind the reviews. "Audiences are very excited by the play; that's the main thing."

Will "Yonadab" come to Broadway? After the success of "Equus" and "Amadeus"--count on it. Shaffer is already thinking about revisions.

The Village Voice's Julius Novick dropped into the new Los Angeles Theatre Center over the holidays and was impressed by its artistic vision, its multitude of offerings, its place in the renewal of Spring Street, its "magnificent" marble lobby--indeed, by everything except the one play he saw, Donald Freed's "The Quartered Man."

Where Freed's "Secret Honor" had provided some intriguing speculations about Richard M. Nixon and Watergate, "The Quartered Man" struck Novick as so skewed between fantasy and reality, and so overloaded with "multimade biff-bam-blooie," that he wasn't sure what it was trying to say about the CIA.

Still, Novick liked the feeling of the place.

"The goal is evidently an ambitious, risk-taking, high-volume diversity in which an occasional false move like 'The Quartered Man' won't matter so much. It could work."

HEADLINE OF THE WEEK: "DECEIT FOUND PERVASIVE IN THE NATURAL WORLD" (New York Times).

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