Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Around the Edges

Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Around the Edges

Article excerpt

A pristine kinescope of Evening Primrose is now available on DVD

During the shooting of the 1966 teleplay Evening Primrose, Stephen Sondheim writes in the introduction to its official DVD release (El Entertainment), "I told Tony Perkins not to look into the camera but around the edges, because I thought that Charles, the character he was playing, would be looking around at his world, not at the audience. The result is that both the character and the actor seem unfocused."

Those who have bootleg video copies of the original broadcast would have had to take Sondheim's word for it about the actor's eyes, given that the nth-generation bootlegs cast shadows over the performers' faces. The pristine black-and-white 16mm kinescope of the ABC Stage 67 broadcast reproduced on this DVD, however, preserves Perkins' unnerving glances. This well-preserved footage looks much closer to a feature film than to a standard kinescope. Forty-four years after its original telecast, Evening Primrose has never looked better.

A re-viewing of the production reveals how the themes and some of the characters and events in Evening Primrose resonate with musicals for which Sondheim would later write scores. The heartbeat vamp introduction to "If You Can Find Me, I'm Here" is similar to the busy signal vamp to the title song in Company, providing both mood and tone. Dorothy Stickney's arch, card-playing grand dame Mrs. Monday is reminiscent of Mme. Armfeldt in A Little Night Music and the elderly hermits anticipate the ex-showgirls in Sondheim and Goldman's subsequent collaboration Follies. Ella is forcibly hidden in the store's basement and gruesomely punished for her misbehavior, much as Sondheim's Rapunzel would be imprisoned by the Witch, or Johanna by Judge Turpin. And when Charles learns that the unseen Dark Men live in a mortuary, he asks what they live on, implying an answer out of Sweeney Todd.

The teleplay's conceit of disgruntled New Yorkers seeking sanctuary is the central theme of the 1974 Arthur Laurents play The Enclave (for which Sondheim wrote memorable incidental music), and the idea of a sensitive poet like Charles renouncing society by secretly living in a department store is akin to the artists in Rent (by Sondheim protégé Jonathan Larson) defiantly squatting in abandoned Alphabet City buildings. …

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