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A Taste of Honey (06/24/1981 - 11/08/1981)


New York Daily News: "'A Taste of Honey' could use some spicing"

This production of "A Taste of Honey" opened first at the Off-Broadway Roundabout/Stage II. It transferred intact to the Century Theatre on June 24, 1981.

Twenty years later, the flavor's just about gone. Shelagh Delaney's "A Taste of Honey," revived by the Roundabout last night at its tiny Stage Two, held a quirky charm for us back in the fall of 1960 (when John Osborne's trailblazing "Look Back in Anger" was still fresh in our minds) with its frank though compassionate look at one of the shabbier, more desperate sides of English society. Traces of its former attraction remain, but it hasn't worn very well; the crudeness and contrived cheekiness of the dialogue stand out awkwardly, and the overall craftsmanship is negligible.

That it retains any appeal at all is due, of course, to the character of the waiflike bastard Jo - abused, abandoned, and later rejoined by her whorish and mostly indifferent mother Helen. But she and the others in Jo's life are so sketchily drawn that it's hard to develop much interest in them.

Amanda Plummer, in her first major role here, makes a touchingly resilient Jo, a character whose relationship with her mother resembles a coarse image of the sensitively-drawn pair in "The Glass Menagerie." The slight and scrawny actress brings an engaging freshness and skill to her interpretation, and we leave her, as we are meant to, concerned about her future in the sleazy Manchester flat where the action takes place.

The shapely Valerie French plays the cheaply bedizened Helen with brusque efficiency and makes the most she can of the occasional glints of concern, or at least understanding, the author allows her. The Boy, the young black sailor who appears in one brief scene near the start and is responsible for Jo's pregnancy, is attractively set forth by Tom Wright.

There remain Geoffrey, the young homosexual who moves in with Jo, at her insistence, to comfort her, bake cakes, and keep the place tidy, and the boorish car salesman Peter, 10 years Helen's junior and a favored partner, who marries her in an impetuous and never satisfactorily explained move. Keith Reddin is an acceptable Geoff, but John Carroll's Peter is more callow than "brash," as called for, more of a caricature than the author intended.

Tony Tanner has staged the play with authority, even getting the players to assume sufficiently effective Lancashire accents, a practice that probably presented fewer difficulties for the British-reared French than the others.

Set, lighting and costumes are adequate; but oddly, in place of the incidental jazz music the play calls for, or the title theme composed for the Broadway production, there are some vague musical flourishes between scenes.

New York Daily News

New York Post: "'Taste' of boredome"

This production of "A Taste of Honey" opened first at the Off-Broadway Roundabout/Stage II. It transferred intact to the Century Theatre on June 24, 1981.

Susannah York is not the Roundabout's only prized British possession. There is also a revival of Shelagh Delaney's first, and almost last, play, A Taste of Honey.

It was something of a bore when it was first produced in London in 1958 - and the boredom has intensified at Roundabout Stage Two. Its view of a Lancashire girl discovering the facts of life through pregnancy now seems terribly dated.

The play is deftly directed by Tony Tanner, and the cast includes a radiant Amanda Plummer as the pregnant girl fighting for some corner of life. But the play itself dies on the wind of a forgotten culture.

New York Post

New York Times: "'Taste of Honey' Revived at Roundabout"

This production of "A Taste of Honey" opened first at the Off-Broadway Roundabout/Stage II. It transferred intact to the Century Theatre on June 24, 1981.

''We don't ask for life - we have it thrust upon us,'' says Jo, the impoverished, abandoned 18-year-old heroine of Shelagh Delaney's ''A Taste of Honey.'' True enough, but then what does one do? According to Miss Delaney, you don't feel sorry for yourself, you don't cry, you don't even rage at the heavens. You just keep going on, from dark night to dark night, trying to preserve your sense of humor and dignity as best you can.

''A Taste of Honey,'' which caused a sensation in London and New York in the late 1950's, is the latest modern British drama to be revived by the Roundabout. It may be the most worthy excavation of the lot. Though ''Honey'' bears a few dated mannerisms, it holds up much better than most plays of England's look-back-in-anger period. There's a clear-eyed, unsentimental nobility about Miss Delaney's writing that recalls the spirit of Samuel Beckett - even though her naturalistic theatrical style is as far removed from Mr. Beckett as possible. In Tony Tanner's solid production at the Roundabout's intimate Stage II, the play's virtues are unmistakable.

Miss Delaney was 19 when she wrote ''Honey.'' One can only wonder at the wisdom she possessed at that age. She brings equanimity to a sad, apparently autobiographical tale that would send many another writer crashing into bathos and melodrama. Her play's action is all heartbreak, her characters all misfits. The heroine, Jo (Amanda Plummer), is the plain, illegitimate daughter of a long-vanished, mentally defective father and a now aging tart of a mother (Valerie French). The mother goes off to marry a new fancy man, a mean drunk, leaving her daughter alone in a grimy Lancashire tenement. Jo has her own passing fling, with a black sailor, only to be left pregnant. She turns for friendship to a homosexual art student, who is also fated to disappear.

When the playwright is establishing this plot in Act I, she relies somewhat on the clunky contrivances of the well-made play. But from the very beginning, she looks at a miserable world with charity and humor. If the mother, Helen, is uncaring about Jo, she is also funny and likable. She knows what she is, and she's just trying to keep her spiritual infection from spreading to her daughter. ''It's your own life - ruin it your own way,'' Helen explains. ''I've certainly supervised my own downfall.''

Miss French, wearing a tacky fake leopard-skin coat and lots of makeup, is doing some of her best work in this role. Her Helen is as much fading vaudevillian as tired tart or selfish mother; the actress brings sharp, double-edged irony to every line. It's a very honest performance. Even when, at the very end, Helen returns briefly to her pregnant daughter, she remains a guiltless, self-absorbed, buoyant woman. The unmawkish Miss French keeps it clear that the mother has come home for her own practical reasons, not because she has suddenly been overwhelmed by latent maternal affection.

If Miss Delaney is even-handed about the ostensibly villainous Helen, she's every bit as just in her writing of Jo. The daughter is no teary martyr. While she has limited resources to meet the challenges that life hands her, meet them she does. She taunts her mother's boorish new lover with wounding jokes; she tries to laugh off her mother's callousness as an absurd fact of life. Only once, late in the evening, does she give in to convulsions of emotional pain. And it's a brief explosion at that. Without being a Pollyanna, Jo moves on. Maybe her baby will finally introduce her to love - an emotion she has heretofore ''never been too familiar with.''

Jo is on stage throughout; it's a highly demanding role for a young actress. Amanda Plummer is more than up to it - she's stunning. With her messily cropped hair, urchin's posture and devilish grin, she looks just right. More to the point, she reinforces the writing's rich texture by providing a heroine who is part girl, part woman, part working-class street fighter. Angry as she is at her mother, she still has sweetness to give to her sailor. When she enters her sisterly relationship with her homosexual pal later on, she becomes a teasing, testing child who, incongruously enough, happens to be carrying a child in her belly.

As Miss Plummer's sensitive, brotherly playmate, Keith Reddin is an equal match. A forlorn wastrel who has retreated into Jo's apartment to avoid being laughed at, he is brittle, kind and strong as the text requires. Jo and Helen's respective lovers are adequately handled by Tom Wright and John Carroll, but they're not too fully written. Mr. Tanner's energetic direction smartly prevents us from examining Miss Delaney's occasional failings too closely.

In any case, the minor infelicities of craft are insignificant next to the authentic, full-bodied voice that cries out at us in this work. ''It's not the darkness outside - it's the darkness inside houses I can't stand,'' says Jo in one particularly affecting passage. In ''A Taste of Honey'' Miss Delaney plunges through that frightening darkness until she reaches its very heart.

New York Times

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