THE BOOK SHELF: Chris Jones on Chicago Theatre, in "Bigger, Brighter, Louder"

By Steven Suskin
30 Mar 2014

Another moment where Cassidy entwined herself in theatrical history came 15 years later, in 1959, with another unconventional play that was trying out while attempting to find a New York booking: "a remarkable play... this is theater with reverberations, echoes, and a tug at the remembering heart." A local play this was, by a young, black Chicago woman at a time when plays by black playwrights were rarely seen on Broadway — and black women playwrights were unthinkable. Yet Cassidy embraced Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun and helped catapult it to Broadway. It was not because of the racial components, but for the same reason that she had championed The Glass Menagerie: It was a play that must be seen.

Jones also includes pieces from the Trib that attempt to combat Cassidy's harsh criticisms, including one in which Arthur Miller defends himself against the critic's views of his 1947 play All My Sons. (The venerable New York Drama Critics Circle awarded the play its annual prize as best play of the season, which Cassidy considered "an unaccountable gesture by which it became a pygmy nudging its way past the giant that is Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh.")

There is also Cassidy's report on the Chicago company of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire. This was the second cast of the play, starring Uta Hagen and Anthony Quinn; they had earlier been the first replacements on Broadway, while Jessica Tandy and Marlon Brando were on vacation. I have oft heard how powerful Hagen was as Blanche, and how different she was from the British actresses who created the role on Broadway (Tandy) and the screen (Vivien Leigh). Here, Cassidy explains it to us in an enlightening way:



"You don't waste time with Dynamite, theatrical or otherwise, and the smoldering detonation at the Harris Tuesday night served notice that A Streetcar Named Desire is a powerful, violent, and absorbing play of wrenching impact and that Uta Hagen's performance in a first rate cast is the most pitiful, gallant, absurd and magical theater this town has seen since Laurette Taylor cast her spell in The Glass Menagerie." Here was an "assertive and robust" Blanche, instead of the frail and neurotic heroine we are more accustomed to. According to Cassidy, at least, it enhanced the power of the play.

But enough. "Bigger, Brighter, Louder" gives us dozens of reviews — some perceptive, some notorious, and some bitingly funny. I warrant that you will find Mr. Jones' Chicago-eyed view of theatre sharp, amusing and incisive.

(Steven Suskin is author of the updated and expanded Fourth Edition of "Show Tunes" as well as "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble," "A Must See," the "Broadway Yearbook" series, and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He also writes the Aisle View blog at The Huffington Post. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)