Meryl Streep Tags the Wrong Theater Critic

New York magazine pan of Trelawny of the Wells was not written by John Simon.

An interesting WENN item made the rounds this week. Meryl Streep recalled her 1975 Broadway debut in Trelawny of the Wells, alongside John Lithgow, Mandy Pantinkin and Marybeth Hurt, and how the production was derailed by a New York magazine pan:

“We had preview audiences who were laughing and loving it and having a great time and then John Simon, who was a reviewer for New York magazine and famously cantankerous, wrote a shitty review and after that came out the audiences were nonplussed, because they were told how to feel.”

“The difference was really marked,” Streep continued. “That’s when I began to hate the critics. I remember when you would be in a play in New York City and there were three reviewers who really mattered — Clive Barnes, Simon and Mel Gussow.”

There’s just one problem. Simon did not write that review. The pan was in fact authored by Alan Rich, who took over the beat halfway through 1975 when Simon moved over to movie reviewing. A footnote, to be sure, but one we wanted to pass on. Here are a couple of excerpts from the review which, as Streep notes, changed the way audiences reacted:

The theater being the art of acting out lies, and audiences being ever willing to be raped by those lies, the mystic appeal of lies about liars remains paramount…

Its plotting is weak, its writing arid, maudlin and clumsy… Marybeth Hurt, the eponymous heroine, spends the evening in Mary Pickford imitations. Her leading man, Mandy Patinkin, whimpers and whines like a juvenile from the Second Avenue theater of yore.

Trelawney of the Wells previewed Oct. 3, 1975 and ran at the Vivian Beaumont Theater for 47 performances between Oct. 15 and Nov. 23.

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