Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.
March 19, 1970, Vol. XV, No. 12
by Dick Brukenfeld
The sexual revolution is becoming too popular for its own good. The Establishment’s going to co-opt it. Soon colleges, churches, even your local Y will offer courses in sexual technique — with nude audience participation; and popular magazines will publish marriage manuals in serial form. Having ruined sex for you first by making it taboo, the same group is now preparing to take the fun out by making it public. Love-making will be just another subject to learn, another area in which to feel incompetent, an activity with all the appeal of tomorrow morning’s pushups.
Meanwhile, at this midpoint between the puritanic and the calisthenic, when sex can still raise an audience, your box office dramatist is having an easy, perhaps too easy time of it. Once again those dowager themes which can dominate the commercial theatre can be turned into virgins. Your man need only undress them with sexual liberation.
In “MORE POWER TO YOU,” Michael Shurtleff works some changes on the “Picnic” situation, which brings a sexy stranger into a small community. He makes the stranger nude and turns the community into an incestuous menage.
High on marijuana and uttering at least a dozen “Oh wows” (can people on drugs say anything else?), Lance, the boy from next door, comes into an old mansion where a love-making brother and sister live with an older sister who has a thing about visiting their father’s grave. Although clothed during the opening scene, this foreign body appears nude early in act two and remains so for most of the evening. By the end of act three, Lance has helped his new friends cut some of their family ties.
Few of the intervening incidents stick in my mind, but that in itself makes no criticism since “More Power” is a play of character. And I have good memories of both Lance and the incestuous sister, Leonora; they are splendid inventions. A hedonist and extrovert, the nude neighbor is “clear about orgies — people are my thing, I want to get into them.” In the person of Clinton Dunn, he is graceful and engaging with an emotional openness that matches his nudity. Where he is assertively superficial, Leonora is reflective, religious, and deeply committed to her brother, Phil. Shelley Slater brings a beautiful, almost musical resonance to this self-controlled yet sensual woman.
The incidents I do recall, and with some puzzlement, are the encounters between Leonora and brother Phil, who wants to leave her and the homestead so he can go forth into the world. He is, of course, ambivalent, and he seems to be seeking her permission to leave. Yet this isn’t clear enough, either in the writing or in Chuck Isen’s performance. But more than this, I never understood why he wanted to leave her, not really. Generally speaking, we all know incest is negative. But in Shurtleff’s world. I never felt the necessity for this couple’s being broken up.
What his characters do seem neither to be inevitable nor to occur with the randomness of life. I was too often aware of the playwright as chess master. Shurtleff, best known for his 1961 Off-Broadway success, “Call Me by My Rightful Name,” is good at dramatic chess. He knows how to handle a scene, he is often amusing, and he has a nice way of exposing “More Power’s” characters without violating them. Yet his approach is too schematic, like a medical chart rather than an incision.
He has taken an old theme and made it contemporary, but his vision lacks focus. Moment to moment I enjoyed Claude Underwood’s production, but I left without the feeling that this trip was necessary. “More Power To You” had its baptismal performances at the Extension, and I hope a revised version will be re-appearing soon.
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]