At long last
Richard A Schauer | Kent,, WA USA | 03/22/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Once upon a time they actually showed plays on late night television. I have not seen this play since first shown in 1967 but remember it with a great deal of fondness. This review is based on the original telecast, but I have waited a long time to see this again and have to recommend it. If you enjoy plays, Maxwell Anderson, or want to see Dustin Hoffman in a very early role then this time-travel fantasy is for you. Orson Bean is the lead actor but Hoffman stands out as he ages through the passing years in the play. Broadway Theater Archive deserves applause. for releasing this series of plays."
A real beauty
Alan | New York, NY | 10/09/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Back before there was PBS, there were many local public-television stations. The one in New York produced a number of excellent productions of classic and modern plays and fortunately some of those productions have appeared on DVD thanks to Broadway Theatre Archive. This is one of those, a production first shown in 1966. In those days, we were somewhat lucky because there was relatively little programming available to those stations, with the result that some programs were repeated a number of times over several years. I was so in love with this production that I audiotaped it on one of its many rebroadcasts, so it must have been being shown as late as 1971.
Looking at comments on imdb and at the earlier review here, I see that I'm not the only who was enthralled with this production many years ago and who has remembered it ever since. This is the kind of production we would NEVER see today, not even on PBS: a play that was pretty much forgotten even in 1966, by a playwright who was once famous but is rarely produced nowadays, namely Maxwell Anderson.
"The Star Wagon" is a time-travel play. Stephen Minch, a visionary inventor who has been taken advantage of for years by his employer because he doesn't care about money and . . . well, "marches to his own drummer" would be a good way of putting it, lives with his wife, Martha, and his friend and assistant, Hanus, who is viewed by others as something of a halfwit.
Martha has about reached the breaking point in her unhappiness with Stephen's unwillingness to fight for the money he deserves at his job, and there is constant tension in the house. Stephen has, with Hanus's help, created a time machine. Stephen decides to travel back in time to the crucial day when he and Martha became engaged, so that he can make things right for Martha by not marrying her and condemning her to a life of unhappiness with him. Of course, when Stephen and Hanus do travel back, things turn out to be a little more complicated than Stephen anticipates.
This production is so beautifully acted that it's hard to believe that it must have been produced fairly quickly with relatively little rehearsal. In the leading roles of Stephen, Martha, and Hanus, we get performances from Orson Bean, Joan Lorring, and Dustin Hoffman that are so touching, so rich, so luminous that you can't help but care deeply about their fate.
There's excellent support from such superb actors as Eileen Brennan, Marian Seldes, and Jo Hurt, among others. It's directed with a sensitive hand by Karl Genus and there's a lovely score by José Serebrier (better known as a conductor).
This may not appeal to everyone. For one thing, the production is in black-and-white (but if you've read this far, I doubt that will bother you). When we go back in time, the actors in the major roles do not look remotely 20ish, as their characters are supposed to be in that sequence. Of course, it's all somewhat stylized--it's not as if anything here is supposed to be realistic--but I imagine some people might be bothered by that.
More important, the play is lyrical and bittersweet, qualites that don't appeal to everyone, and it does take its time to make its effects. Some will surely regard it as a bit sappy, and there is one section that is self-consciously poetic in the way that Anderson was sometimes. There are reasons why Anderson is now almost forgotten and rarely produced, but there are also reasons why this play was popular and well-regarded in its day. There is imagination, a truly moving elegiac quality, and real compassion for all the characters, something this production emphasizes. The writing feels very authentic (except for that one "poetic" sequence), and that's what counts.
With a major stage revival of this play unlikely any time soon, lovers of American drama are fortunate that this beautiful production is available."
40 Years Later
Donald Lee | Sacramento CA USA | 04/21/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I too remember watching "The Star Wagon" when it originally aired in 1967. I even wrote a review on it for my high school English class. I remember Orsean Bean singing "Jerusalem" as his wife Martha played the piano. After 40 years I can enjoy watching it again."