No one seems to object to the transcriptions and posting of AK’s comments which are at I’m putting comments and analysis on a separate blog, this one, so that people who don’t want to read such things don’t have to. This blog is set to accept anonymous comments, but I read them all and won’t tolerate flame wars. None have started.

Some of the most interesting and useful feedback on this material is coming in emails, some shared and others not shared, which I don’t want to post with names attached unless I have permission. I’m just going ahead to name the people AK named in her notes -- it’s been half a century since then, after all. Indeed, some of the email comments are arriving from people in that time period as well and those of us who know each other can probably guess who said what.

In good “discussion” mode, I’ll try to separate the issues from the people.

1. It is most moving that after fifty years the memory of personal relationships with AK have the status of love affairs, magical relationships that have inspired people for decades. They do NOT want that interfered with. Who would?

2. Likewise, there were a few people deeply wounded by past misunderstanding and schism and they, too, still hurt. To some this might be a reason to shut down, but to me it’s a reason to continue.

3. One opinion is that AK’s teaching methods are obsolete now. Students will no longer tolerate the confrontive and sometimes invasive tactics she used then. Indeed, some people wouldn’t accept them then, but they quietly went elsewhere. Is it a loss or a gain to give up the auteur model of teaching? Stanislavki was, after all, a Russian like the famously dictatorial ballet masters.

4. Is it true that academic theatre is nothing like professional theatre? You can still be tough on professional actors? (If Equity allows it.)

5. Some feel that theatre is totally different now. Whatever was important then is NOT important now. Or, to the contrary, theatre, esp. repertory theatre, is entering a renaissance that is vital and thriving across the country with new companies still being founded.

6. AK’s life trajectory is not really understandable without considering the time periods, the place, the administrators, sexism, and so on. No different from understanding a character in a play. (I confess -- this is my opinion.) All this happened before the Derrida Deconstruction craze, but we understand that, don’t we?

Mary Strachan Scriver

(Prairie Mary_

Friday, May 2, 2014


February 2, 1960

The program notes for University theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors” express surprise that it is not played more often.  After seeing it, one knows why.

In fact, one wonders why University theatre purposefully selected what is notorious for being Shakespeare’s worst comedy, if not the worst of all his plays.

It was probably selected because it was felt the comic and slapstick elements in the play could make a successful light production, if not a memorable one.  But, without a cast of dyed-in-the-wool, hardened professional comics this is impossible no matter who is producing the play.

In other words, “Comedy of Errors” is a lousy play.  It was badly written and poorly constructed and followed through.  The comic scenes are repetitious and dull.  One is never quite sure, of all the twins, who is on the stage, and one is worn out watching the play without having derived any merriment from it.

Shakespeare listed the play from Plautus’ “Menechini,” where he should have left it.  It is one of Shakepeare’s earliest comedies, and it has all the signs, a complicated plot; stiff, unnatural dialogue; and a peculiar, undeveloped mixing of tragic and comic elements.

So, given these preliminary problems, there is little a cast of university players can do but bear with the play and try to get around it by using what little they know and rarely get to practice about low, slapstick comedy.

There is little desire on the reviewer’s part to continue.  The play is a bad one.  the players and director did their best but what resulted was not an entertaining production.  The only production of the “Comedy of Errors” that ever had any potential was Rogers and Hart “The Boys from Syracuse,” a 1930’s musical saved by the music.

To the credit of the play, it was well-paced and never dragged, a decided possibility in the tedious unraveling of the plot in the second act.  The action was good and the players told their story without belaboring it.

In addition, the play looked good.  That is, the groupings and movement on stage was quite effectively done by means of different levels and a variety of entrances off and onto the stage.  There was a studied effort to place the characters where they would look the best in relation to other characters and to the plot.

Set against a most effective background, built to represent a street in early 19th century Europe, the stage pictures were very pleasing.  However, the contortions the actors went through to set up these stage pictures not only wore out the actors but also the audience.  At once point, the abbess walks across the stage, up some stairs, and turns immediately around and comes back down, while reciting a speech.

On the debit side, there is the acting out of the play.  It was dull and rarely humorous.

If there was an outstanding performance, it was certainly that of Paula Ragusa [later Paula Prentiss], as Adriana the shrewish wife to one of the twin brothers.  She was the perfect shrew with the loud voice and the flaying arms.  [sic]

Paul Hardy, as the twin Antipholus of Syracuse, did a competent job.  He gave his lines what life he could, but did his best work in pantomime and silent reaction to situations.  Several of the comic bits he and Larry Smith, as his servant Dromio, were the most effective in the play.

Smith, who played both twins Dromio, was most enjoyed by the audience.  He resorted to low comedy routines, as he should have, rolling on the stage, falling, doing double takes, and acting generally unaware of much that was going on.

If there was any fault in his performance, it was that he over-played his part without working with anyone else on stage, except Hardy.

Bill Pogue, as Antipholus of Ephesus, and Sharon Risk, as Luciana, Adriana’s sister, read their poorly written lines without inspiration, in contrast to Hardy and Ragusa.

And Robin Deck, as the courtesan, looked and acted the part brassily enough but never stopped moving the entire time she was on the stage, although attention was rarely centered on her.

The costumes were the poorest this season.  Although there is no particular objection to doing the comedy in Empire dress, the colors are badly matched (particularly that of Antipholus) and the women’s costumes appeared to have been hastily thrown together, one swatch of material over another.

It is too bad that University theatre had to select a comedy like this one to display its talents.  At least “Endgame” was a conscientious effort to experiment and “Caesar and Cleopatra” was an entertaining extravaganza.

This play was last produced at Northwestern in 1939.  Perhaps it would not be asking too much to wait 40 instead of 20 years before the next production.

[Notes:  Weeks never does name the director, but -- judging from the cast -- I suspect it was Krause.  Perhaps it was also Krause who directed in 1939, maybe to better reviews.  But this is speculation.]

Here's a pre-performance publicity clip from the Daily Northwestern.  There was no story.  Thirkield's name is misspelled. Paula Ragusa is unnamed.  


  1. Larry Smith was the director as well as playing Dromio - Bill Striglos was dressed identically and played the second Dromio in the last scene. That's me in the picture, playing the Abbess.

    Kate Pogue

    The director was Dr. Mitchell. I was in it playing Dr. Pinch, quite badly as I recall.

    Marshall Mason

    I guess we’ll have to find the program to know!

    Mary Strachan Scriver


  2. Well, of course everyone is right about Dr. Mitchell - I must have been thinking of An Italian Straw Hat when I thought of Larry Smith. Thanks to everyone for setting my untrustworthy memory straight -
    -- Kate

    Dr Mitchell definitely was the director. I remember it clearly and how much I disliked doing, nothing so to speak.
    -- Bill Striglos

    I wandered into the auditorium one afternoon and found Dr. Mitchell engrossed in a model of a set he had placed down center. I looked over his shoulder and saw that he was moving little toy soldiers around the model, and recording their movements in a notebook.
    "Dr. Mitchell," I asked. "What are you doing?"
    "Blocking Romeo and Juliet," he answered (though my memory isn't sure that was the show.)
    "What an interesting way to do it," I said.
    "Yes," he answered. "At first I used golf tees of different colors to represent the various characters; then I tried little cowboys and Indians, but actors so rarely appear with guns or on horseback. So now I use these toy airmen, because they stand up nice and straight the way an actor should."
    "How do you identified the various characters?" I asked.
    "See the little dots of color on each head?  I have a chart that assigns a color to each character."
    I hadn't yet seen one of his shows, but when I did, I saw that the blocking looked exactly like toy soldiers being moved around a set, and a photo of any given moment would has yielded a perfectly balance and arranged stage picture.
    There was a sword fight in that show (maybe it was R & J) and I recall that neither sword came within three feet or either actor. When I asked him later why the fight had been so cautious, he explained that "you don't want the audience to worry about the actors hurting one another; that would destroy the illusion."
    -- Bob Benedetti

  3. It DID star Larrry and Bill, though, and Robin Deck was in it as well. They were all better than I was.
    Larry directed me in a later year with Rod Nash in J.B. One of my fondest memories, which led to me directing it at ASU 50 years later.

    -- Marshall Mason