Seminars in theatre; Johnny No Trump, part one
This is seminars in theatre a series of discussions with leading members of the theatrical profession who comment on the problems and pleasures of life in the theatre. Here now is the host of seminars and theatre Richard Pyatt. Good evening and welcome to another seminars and theatre this evening and our usual frame of reference of discussing the theatre. We have as our guests Mary Mercia who recently wrote recently had a play open on Broadway which she wrote and titled Johnny notrump MS Mercier and we have two people and we want to talk a little bit about each of them because their backgrounds especially Ms Mercier at this point is we think especially important. She is an American citizen. She was born in Cardiff South Wales. She lived in England Sweden Finland France Belgium and Canada before immigrating to the United States. She's worked in theatre for 32 years starting in pantomime and she's had experience in the classical
so-called classical and contemporary repertory as well as radio television Broadway on and off and. Some of her recent work in the New York theater would include appearances in a number of plays. The lady of the chameleon has three sisters a fun couple and others. She's toured in plays the complacent lover and appeared in rooms in Plato in 1964. Johnny no trouble represents our first play and she's currently working on another play which we will be able to talk to her about. Our second guest is Don Scardino who assume the title role in the play I would believe I didn't see the play Johnny Edwards was the name of the I guess I refers to Johnny notrump 19 Don has had an active theatrical career in the past season he appeared in the Unknown Soldier and his wife the Reimers of Eldridge and the loves of Cass McGuire and 165 it was in the play room and the season before that he played park in A Midsummer Night's Dream for the Washington D.C. Shakespeare Festival
followed by a shout from the rooftops off Broadway. He was a regular member of the cast of the guiding light and CBS TV serial playing John Fletcher for two years and his other productions include. Tryouts of seven scenes for Una and everybody at the castle is sinking. He's a born New Yorker I should say was born in New York his parents are professional musicians Dan is a self-taught guitarist and leader. I assume that the group is still going intitled another fine mess I'm glad that you've named it that and I say more. His future plans include among other things learning to play the sitar which is quite popular these days have been city college and studying Eastern religion which is quite popular with the Hollywood set among others. But what we're going to talk about is Johnny notrump and one of the titles we thought about when we were discussing the name of the subtitle of the show was a conflict of generations
and I say that Richard Watts when he reviewed the play gave the title to his article. And one of the things he said about him we just want to quote it. Richard Watts Jr. He said that in the first paragraph there are so many likeable things about Johnny notrump that it seems a pity they don't add up more interesting way. The new play by Mary mercy which opened last night at the Court Theatre has believable and understandable characters and it deals with a recognisable family situation in a sympathetic and sensible way. Unquote and from Clive Barnes New York Times critic here a lot of good things to say about the play about Mary Mercier. And he wound up would take this out of context somewhat but he wound up with the final paragraph of saying and so there is a cliche play at heart. Yet one with good enough passages and strong enough if rickety architecture to support a sextet of good players. And he goes on to say I personally would have preferred to have
written it than say cactus flower but that does not mean it will run as wrong. And I don't know whether that made it but it did not run long as matter of fact Mary. The play opened and closed in what was it the same on the same night yeah. This is unusual even for bad players I mean bad plays run at least a week down the yeah so I guess they do. And I am truly ashamed that I ever. Wrote it. And you know went into the whole thing nor ever had anyone read it to produce it to review it or act in it. Well because if something closes the same night then it implies really that it must be a nightmare. You know it does imply that it also implies that. And of course if I had felt that it was truly a nightmare in previews. Then I would have asked that they close it before the critics saw it you know
and they brushed me the critics where I was had a chance to see it just about I didn't see it and that's what I did and the reason I like to ask you a few questions are to get an idea I'm sure a number of my audience would not get a chance to see and maybe will never get a chance to see it I don't know this is one of the features of our system. What it essentially is the theme of the play. While whenever people have asked me in the past what it's about I always said it. It's about a family middle class Long Island. And what happens to them in the course of a weekend. And I I was a little surprised when people thought it was a play just about the generation gap because I never thought of it. Like that.
It's about someone who dreams who wants to be a poet and he finds himself facing various forces and they are like the UN educated so-called educated. He's also close to the dissolute. And finally at the end of the play he's affected by chance you know an accident occurs at the end. And these things influence his particular life during that weekend and. I guess I wanted to show that it's very easy to kill a dream and it can be done innocently by other people and often with the best motives in mind on the part of others you know. I've done you played the boy in question. What did you think
the play was about. Well I don't really have too much to add to Mary's description except that I just think it was a very real honest play. As far as depicting the emotions of the young man who has a dream in this case to be a poet. And that's very rare. That mostly when you see a young man in the films or television or theater today you find. It isn't portrayed honestly and really and. And Mary had really written about real people especially the boy because I'm not much past 16 I'm 19 and I had a similar kind of dream that I want to be in the theatre the same kind of creative you know desire and. That's all I had really was about this boy and what he
wanted to do and he had trouble with his parents and eventually this accident you know changed all that. But what what and can we talk about can we mention what the accident was just I guess you know at the end of the play the mother dies she's killed and that's of course off stage because you can't very well show that on stage. And. Some people did not like that happening at the end. In fact do we have time to look at something mister said something in which I met him. We have as yet with a death far too melodramatic for theatre and princes here only real life normally can get away with such a random cool date.
Well I think that I don't quite agree with that. That there are lots of things that happen in real life that would be very tasteless to put on a stage. But there are certain things that happen in life that are permissible in a play and don't necessarily mean that it's contrived to make an ending. You know I think that nose of death. Never comes to anyone at a moment when they are ready to receive it unless the person is old or sick or something. That everyone. You know been getting ready to go someplace they are at a party. Even at Christmas dinner and they will receive word. And if you put that or dare to put that into a play they will say I guess that it's can try it. Well there was something apparently appealing about the
place in spite of the fact that it closed in one eye for one eye as performers and in spite of some of the reviews because most of the reviews most of the critics from the way the reviews I read indicated they would have wanted more than nothing else than to give this play a very good review and all of these reviews have that sounds like that. But for some reason or other they felt that the writing of the play did not quite. It was not strong enough. You feel that the reviews that came out about the play were valid or they are unfair or what. What is your feeling about that. Well I suppose over a period of time creative people have always made the same remark really that they have never learned anything about their work from the critics. They
have you know learnt from themselves and I teach in maybe but over the years never from the critics themselves. And I would never learn anything. I dont think from these people for the future. Well one of the a pertinent remarks that gives us some time to myself is an insight into what was wrong with the play is from Barnes Review. I may read this he says Miss Mercy's difficulty seems to be that while she knows how people really speak shes unable to heighten dialogue consistently for the fear it usually she went too far so that her people sounded like any other synthetic The article's sounding of our own realization of this emerged toward the end when one of the characters said Why does a for real feeling always come out as corn. And this is a problem for me when I see his next play.
They me this is this is true for real feelings I think we all experience sometimes when we really try to say something to somebody about something if we are ever moved of we havent touched in any area. And we try to communicate it to someone we know or someone that possibly we know not too well. There is the it does have the danger or the element of really sounding like corn. And this is a true this is a realistic situation why cant it happen on stage that way. I dont know middle class. I love in a middle class family is often expressed I think now by carping and small arguments big arguments over everything. In fact the people in in my play are capable of fighting to the death over who will answer the door. You know this does not mean that they dont love each other but they will never say that
to one another. Your player has been compared in just a small way with the subject was roses which I saw was involved and had some friends and that place was quite successful. And it was successful even though. The the action really revolved around the same kind of or similar family domestic family situation with their little squabbles and and all of the underlying causes of the dream that this boy had and the subject was roses and that was quite successful. I guess the difference there if we want to talk about similarities or differences was that it was a three play card and we should mention that Pettengill was in this along with the barber. Lester Patti will play the uncle I think Harry Armstrong and said It comes in James Broderick but it peters is six characters the subject roses
had three but was very a great deal of comedy and Johnny notrump have any comedy. Yes a great deal. I guess that's the thing about the comedy in Johnny notrump is that it was a real comedy is county arises in life like Mr. Bines makes the point a cactus flower Cactus Flower bean for you know most purposes a lot of laugh lines strung together on a situation comedy kind of plot where Johnny notrump the comedy arose out of a real situation out of real people and then it was truly funny. You know and I think when it was funny it was truly funny because it was real you know but you talk about the. The play closing so fast and was it a nightmare and bad plays one a week. Naturally when it closed in one night very distraught and upset and why. You know but I think one of the things that Richard said Richard Barr the producer said I think is very true is that today especially this season
particularly it seems to be true that you need those hit reviews you need for them just to come out with four stars like The Daily News or the wise people are going to get out from from their television sets to come and see it. And the point is that I suppose we could if we had extra money in the budget held it open and lasted and tried to build on word of mouth but like the second night we would have had maybe 40 60 people in the house and I think that might have been as much as I would have liked it loved for it to run because it was my whole world you know. Was that it would be essentially dishonest to what was really an honest and good production to play to the kind of houses which were treated as though it were a flop. You know without probably ever catching on so Mr Barnes hope was that by closing the plane one night it would cause enough stir. And enough commotion in the theater business that people would begin to realize the terrible state theatre was in as far as this you know hit or miss kind of attitude was concerned. And that
some of the people like Bonds who have all this power and it's really Barnes in New York would realize the kind of power that he has and you know by although he had very good things to say about the play by not pointing up the good things he literally close the play. And Richard hopes to reopen it either in his brother repertory company or off-Broadway in like around December or January because the interest in the play has grown since the play's close and perhaps if we had hung on and tried to make it and then close within two weeks it would have just gone down as another flop. And very little attention would have been given to it. This is only I was going to mention it down. To number one. This has happened to other players. The pair were about to close or did close and all of us in spite of the reviews and all of a sudden by word of mouth popularity something the audience just flocked toward And the play had to extend its engagement as has happened.
I'll tell you the reaction to joining our tramp. We had a series of 10 previews before we opened five invited previews and five paid previews and the reaction was just marvelous. Just beautiful. And in fact we did very little advertising for the paid previews just a little box in the New York Post or something like that with no names padding those name wasn't mentioned. And by the weekend of that week of paid previews we were sold out literally sold out strictly on word of mouth. So the public liked the play they responded to it. They love the play and the people that I know who saw the play and people I didn't know just approach me came backstage afterwards really love the play because here was a play about real people a play you can like you know a play that people can identify with because everyone's either been 16 or or had children you know who've gone through similar kind of feelings and where the thought is that at the present time the subject of the play is particularly pertinent to the treatment of it or how it's written. I guess that comes into the area of
criticism. Speaking of this conflict and it has been called the conflict of generations. OB do you Mary and Dawn there. We do recognize there is a vast area at the present time which has been coined a kind of a conflict between generations we see. There are elements of the young that disagree entirely with the establishment the establishment being their immediate adults and they feel. And it extends beyond their of their parents. It goes into the establishment of the country in all places. And we have movements hippie movements or we have whatever you want to call them but we have this kind of youthful malcontent with where they're going. Your play seemed to hit upon this kind of conflict in the
present day society. Dawn did you I mean you are at the age where. Either you do have this feeling or you observe it or you wonder about it. And do you see a correlation between what was written in the play and what is happening in society and what you may feel about your own existence as a member of the youthful set. Well here comes the discontented the younger generation. I tell you I think first of all I think that the play was I think was a mistake to call the play a conflict as far as generations was concerned really. I mean the subject was roses about a young man his parents but no one called it a conflict of generations maybe because the hippie movement wasn't as popular that kind of thing. I just think that happened to be. A conflict in a family where it concerned a young man. So I don't think I don't think the play really was so much conflict in
generations or just conflict in a family you know where that young man was the focal point. And I think that's one of the mistakes that everybody wants to label everything. That's why they label people hippies and you know it doesn't hogs and everything else. And and they had to have a tag to put on it and because it seems to be right now with all the other plays that have been coming on Broadway THE FREAKING OUT OF Stephanie whatsis and all this you know and so they have to label it a conflict of generations here it is folks in interesting bands labeled a misfit at odds with the world. Yeah that was you know that's going to go up because a poet or a would be poet is definitely a misfit in our society. There's no doubt about that. Yet Mary when you tell them when you were talking to people about if your son or your daughter or whatever your child came to you and said I want to be a poet. What would you say.
Well you tell him. What would you say. Yeah I asked parents that had children and I said What would you do if one day they said to you that they would want to be a poet. And it was met with astonishment that they would even think of such a thing. They might suggest you know a kid might say I want to go to the moon and I want to climb Everest that much fancier except that you know I just I'm kind of crazy dream. But many parents would apparently. I would find that quite unusual and astonishing if their child suddenly said that to them one day. Do you think Mary I want to ask you a bit before I go into something else in connection with this. When did you start writing. Johnny No truck. About four years ago and I was acting
from time to time throughout the period of two years so it it took two years to write. But that was on and off that was not sitting down every day and doing it. That was the inception Yes. Yes there was an actual writing time probably nine months work and wait. And were you right or were you in this country at the time. Not no I was initially part of the time. And. For three months and then here the rest of the time. But you have lived in Sweden Finland and I think I said Perez live and a few other countries for a good number of IO is accurate in a number of years. Not a good number of years would be I. I came to the states 21 years ago and for a few years before that I lived on the continent. You were involved in and I take it soon in theater here where you were living.
Yeah I saw enough I've always been connected to theater some times when I was a teenager in the amateur group. Not always professional but have always had some connection to theatre. Nearly all my life. Yup when you started writing this play Did you have Broadway in your mind I don't know it was never meant to be read much less produced. I would never want to know how it was. I never wanted to be a writer. And suddenly. You know I had the desire. And I felt it was more like a hobby you know. Once it was started I thought I may as well go on and see if I can finish. And it doesn't matter because no one's ever going to read it. And it would just go into the draw you know just like I might have painted a picture and then put it on the wall I wouldn't have sent it to a museum or you know this is an
interesting revelation to hear a playwright say about it I don't know that I don't think I'm not sorry that I that I didn't do that. That's what I should know because I put it in the draw and let it but I got curious that was the problem. You know after it had been there like a month I thought you know let me show it to a friend just to see what they think and that was going on the morning. When I said why don't you do something. Then I put it away again. And then a week later I would think What would another friend think. So another friend reads it and says Why don't you do something this was very unfortunate you know. Well you know as you say that I think about the many playwrights or beginning playwrights who were writing feverish late and and writing expressly to be heard and seen and do not put it away in a drawer whatever. And here you are you write a play would you had no intent
of having it produce and yet it ends up on Broadway. And it brings you a certain kind of thing because I think what has happened from this. And this is why I want to bring in this other review. Would you go to the critics. You know critics are always polarized it seems at one end of a negative or a positive conclusion they never seem to agree. And here's a startling review I mean by Stuart Klein which he is a stalwart of W and a W TV and radio but he says and I think it's worth reading as most of it he says Johnny notrump which opened tonight at the Court Theatre is a beautiful play. It's witty and intelligent. It's poignant and tragic. It is a genuinely moving experience. In her first play author Mary Mercier has wrought the miracle of creating life out of ink and paper and she has done it magnificently. And he goes on to say what the play is about and then says Mr. Mercier tells are human
comedy in rich language with an eye on erring ear for dialogue and the play has been expertly staged by Joseph Hardy Johnny notrump in short is a winner and it may be a winner again when the Tony Awards are given out. I mean if you want to read it that well. You know and these reviews are repeated in some way by other critics of the long look. Well this you know does to any person who wants to think about it poses a kind of quandary you know why on earth would someone you know it's one that's what makes horse racing but it certainly seems then that on a second showing and Don mentions something about Barnes being the power in New York and I see where Barnes did read review play that he had said bad things about him and he went to see it again which I think is a compliment to his character and
- Seminars in theatre
- Johnny No Trump, part one
- Producing Organization
- WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- This program features Mary Mercier, actress, playwright; Don Scardino, actor; about play "Johnny No Trump."
- Series Description
- A weekly panel discussion series on the theatre scene in New York City, moderated by Richard Pyatt.
- Media type
Host: Pyatt, Richard I., 1935-
Panelist: Mercier, Mary
Panelist: Scardino, Don
Producing Organization: WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-1-13 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Seminars in theatre; Johnny No Trump, part one,” 1968-02-29, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 6, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-1j97b695.
- MLA: “Seminars in theatre; Johnny No Trump, part one.” 1968-02-29. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 6, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-1j97b695>.
- APA: Seminars in theatre; Johnny No Trump, part one. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-1j97b695