LeRoi Jones Judged Obscene!


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March 19, 1964, Vol. IX, No. 22

Theatre: The Eighth Ditch

By Michael Smith

LeRoi Jones’s brief, lyrical, biting play “The Eighth Ditch” has been revived by the New York Poets’ Theatre on the weekend bill at the New Bowery Theatre, and the result has been a furor over its alleged obscenity. This is ridiculous. Although the action of the play includes sodomy performed on stage (with the lights out), the play is neither obscene nor pornographic. The sexual act is almost incidental to its real content — innocence portrayed by experience — and the play is certainly less prurient in tone and effect than a routine Broadway comedy like “Under the Yum-Yum Tree” and less sexually provocative than much advertising.

“The Eighth Ditch” is written in verse and very deliberately keeps its distance. The sexual act is visually referred to but is in no way flaunted at the audience. And the play is being performed with taste, control, and considerable skill. Its fault is that it pursues its theme with an honest directness, and this apparently threatens some people’s psychic comfort. Such an effect is desirable in this age of indifference. Those who would declare sex or any other subject out of bounds in the theatre are deceiving and limiting themselves.

Rufus Collins is stunning in the lead role of the seducer, with a firm sense of the play’s rhythms and a sound command of its difficult, sometimes awkward language. Frank Cotner as his opposite number is less successful at encompassing the lines, and John Vaccaro as the narrator sounds more pretentious than necessary, I think. But the production as a whole, handsomely set by Robert Morris, is vivid, poignant, and exceptionally interesting.

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