(Feingold’s article appeared on Theatermania, 11/21.)
I am not a disaster collector by nature. I go into every show hoping it will succeed, and hoping even more that it will succeed in pleasing me. But some shows please nobody. They arrive; they get darkly dour reviews; they meet cold, silent audiences in three-fourths-empty houses; and quickly they depart. The puzzle is often how they got there in the first place: Eric Bentley, reviewing New York theater in the 1950s, said the existence of life in the universe would probably be easier to explain than how certain plays got to Broadway. And the more time you spend in the theater, whether as practitioner, critic, or audience member, the more such enigmas you confront.
We call them "turkeys." The name comes from the holiday season's traditional dinner entree, which makes November the appropriate time for this column. Producers used to put up cheap, hastily mounted shows, built to run only between Thanksgiving and Twelfth Night. They tapped into the holiday time's enlarged audience — kids home from school, visiting relatives — and trusted the seasonal good cheer to help playgoers overlook the shoddiness of the work onstage. The technical and artistic standards for holiday shows have improved, but the term has stuck, now meaning anything that is shoddy, sloppy, pointless, or artistically ineffectual enough to appeal to no audience and to close quickly.