The Supporting Cast. Comedy by George Furth. Directed by Gene Saks. Starring Sandy Dennis, Hope Lange, Jack Gilford, Betty Garrett, Joyce Van Patten.
In a period when published indiscretions can pay off in big bucks at the bookstands, playwright George Furth has written a trendy light comedy about a California woman who has put her four best friends in her newly published novel. Since their identity disguises are even thinner than some of Mr. Furth's plotting, the best friends register reactions ranging from puzzlement to outrage and dismay.
As the title indicates, all the characters in "The Supporting Cast" are related to the great and famous. Tell-all novelist Ellen (Hope Lange) is herself the wife of a Pulitzer Prize historian for whom she has done vital research. Her hubby loved her book, but he has walked out even before the play starts. Of the others, Sally (Sandy Dennis) is the wife of a philandering congressman; Arnold (Jack Gilford) is the husband of an eminent playwright; Mae's (Betty Garrett) son is a renowned orchestra conductor; Florrie (Joyce Van Patten), a one-time hairdresser, is the highly maternal spouse of a narcissistic movie star.
"The Supporting Cast" is committed less to plot development than to the comic dissection of two contrasting situations. After tantalizing the friends she has invited to her intimate publication party, Ellen allows them each a copy of the revelatory volume. Florrie reads aloud the novel's first devastating sentence: "My mother always told me to stick with the winners, but if I had, I would never have met my four friends."
In Act II, Mr. Furth further stirs the snitch's brew as each friend in turn goes through the agony of finding him or herself pilloried in print. Ellen insists that they have read it all wrong. But not until she begins dazzling them with casual references to foreign rights, paperback deals, a movie sale, and similar spinoffs do the friends start to accept Ellen's assurances that she intended them as the unsung hero and heroines of her roman a clef. Money, as they say, talks. "The Supporting Cast" is written with the well- grounded expertise of a humorist who knows the transcontinental scene from New York delicatessens to Malibu beach houses. Under Gene Saks's cunningly sure- handed direction the all-star cast at the Biltmore Theater gives "the supporting Cast" the benefit of its seasoned skills. Miss Dennis is outrageously funny as Sally, the contemporary weird sister. Miss Garrett's philosophically good-humored Mae and Miss Van Patten's volubly thunderstruck Florrie contribute their share to this group portrait of those who live in the shadow of celebrities.
as the person who caused all the trouble, Miss Lange faces the difficult task of persuading us that sophisticated Ellen could really have been so unprepared for the havoc she was about to wreak. But Miss Lange is so sincere and attractive and such a good actress that we just take it on faith.
The sleek production was scenically designed by William Ritman, costumed by Jane Greenwoo d, and bathed in California light by Richard Nelson.