(New York Times Theater Review, May 29,1981)

By Mel Gussow

Shel Silverstein has taken the second oldest story in the world, "The Lady or the Tiger", and turned it into a cynical satire of our acquisitive, amoral society. This play by the noted cartoonist and children's author is the highlight of the first round of "Marathon 1981", the Ensemble Studio Theater's annual festival of one-act plays. "The Lady or the Tiger" gives center stage to Richard Dreyfuss, offering a malicious comic portrait of an irredeemably ambitious television producer who will do, say, or promise anything if it will raise his ratings.


It is Mr. Silverstein's notion to recreate "The Lady or the Tiger" as the ultimate television game show. Lamar Darfield, portrayed pipsqueak-style by Raynor Scheine, has been conscripted to play the Game before an audience of 150,000 "live people," with millions more watching on television. Behind one door in a stadium is the girl of his high school dreams, pert Deborah Reagan, dressed like an angel and tooting "Greensleeves" on a flute. Behind the other door is a snarling, enraged tiger. Money has persuaded Miss Reagan to divorce her husband and be a door prize. Mr Scheine is of course acting out of passion, but when faced with the tiger possibility, he wonders, "How much do I really love this woman?"

With unabated energy and comic zeal, Mr. Dreyfuss orchestrates the travesty, swearing on his grandmother's memory that miss Reagan and Mr. Scheine must fulfill their contractual obligations. In other words, faced with suddenly reluctant participants, he makes wild threats. Callowly charismatic, the producer is a throwback to Mr. Dreyfuss's "Duddy Kravitz", a man who can combine greed with guilelessness.

Author and actor have a few clever surprises including one sight gag that is a knockout. Art Wolff has wisely staged the comedy as a cliffhanger, making the countdown a palpable presence. There is helpful support from Howard Lee Sherman as a tiger tamer and Jack Gilpin as a self-serving announcer.

"The Lady or the Tiger" ends the evening with a laugh.

Eliot Cushman--Richard Dreyfuss
Tucker Pim--Howard Lee Sherman
Kenny--Jack Gilpin
Florence Haskins--Deborah Reagan
Lamar Darfield--Raynor Scheine
Voice of Carol--Wende Dasteel
Voice of Sid and Tony--Donald F. Berman
Voice of Salsky--Howard Lee Sherman
Voice of Eddie--Russ Kupfrain