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‘The Flowering Peach’ by Clifford Odets Revived on Broadway

March 21, 1994

NEW YORK (AP) _ Time has withered ″The Flowering Peach,″ Clifford Odets’ attempt to humanize Noah and the Flood by making the man seem like an ordinary Joe, complete with nagging - but ultimately loving - wife and the most quarrelsome bunch of children this side of Cinderella’s stepsisters.

This mawkish fantasy was an odd choice for the struggling National Actors Theater to pick as its last offering of the season. The production that arrived Sunday at Broadway’s Lyceum Theater won’t win the company any new converts.

Even the play’s original production - which opened on Broadway in 1954 - had only a modest 135-performance run. Today, ″The Flowering Peach″ plays like an obvious and dated cartoon - with the audience knowing the punchline long before the curtain falls. Its lack of suspense makes special demands on the actors and the director, who have to find something to keep theatergoers interested in a story they probably know all too well.

What this revival offers is a chance for husband-and-wife acting team Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson to play husband-and-wife biblical characters.

The original star was the diminutive Jewish comedian Menasha Skulnik, who probably was more comfortable with the play’s whimsy than Wallach could ever be. In fact, Wallach, a much more naturalistic actor, looks and sounds uncomfortable in the role of Noah who, when he is not arguing with his family, is arguing with God.

Jackson has a better time of it, dispensing wisdom and common sense to her three unhappy sons and equally unhappy daughters-in-law. None of the actors in these lesser roles comes off well, but the parts are little more than cardboard.

The play itself is an odd combination of peevishness and sentiment, both of which get milked by director Martin Charnin. The story follows Noah’s call from God to build an ark and to get his family - and all those animals - aboard before the rains come.

Odets’ attempt to humanize Noah turns him into a stereotype, alternatively unlikable and too cute. There is little sympathy for his dilemma and even less for the story line which involves the wiping out of almost all of mankind.

There is one fetching moment in the show when the actors stare out into the theater and watch as all the creatures on Earth march slowly to the ark. Audience members just hear sound effects, but those noises are enough to let their imaginations do the rest.

The anemic, dusty-looking settings by Ray Recht, including a rather skeletal ark, are in keeping with the theater troupe’s tradition of skimpy stage designs. Yet Richard Nelson’s lighting conjures up fierce storms as well as the play’s inevitable rainbow. Theoni V. Aldredge’s costumes are appropriately biblical without looking ridiculous.

″The Flowering Peach″ was a departure for Odets, best known for his earnest 1930s Group Theater dramas like ″Waiting for Lefty,″ ″Awake and Sing″ and ″Golden Boy.″ Any one of them would have been a better choice for the National Actors Theater to revive. Judging from this production, ″The Flowering Peach″ wasn’t worth the re-examination.

What other critics said:

David Richards, The New York Times: Despite the seriousness with which it was once regarded, ″The Flowering Peach″ seems little more than heightened sketch-writing today. The fantasy is thin, the significance thinner and the jokes thinnest of all.

Howard Kissel, Daily News: ″Flowering Peach″ may not be a profound play, but it is a sweet one, full of old-fashioned humor. ... The play has a homey feeling, which the NAT production ... captures well.

Clive Barnes, New York Post: Oh well ... a poor choice of play indifferently staged ... but at least they didn’t pick ″J.B.″

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