An Open Letter to Mike Nichols

Dear Mike: Apropos your revival of The Little Foxes, I was going to write you a personal letter of suggestions for other American plays that I think it might be worth-while to revive, a letter that you would hardly be in a position to act upon right away but that you might put away in your files. Now Walter Kerr’s recent article in theatrical section of the Sunday New York Times empresses a reaction so close to my own in connection with this production that I think it may be a good idea to put these suggestions on public record in the hope that they may interest somebody.

The Little Foxes, says Mr. Kerr, “has left me filled with admiration and a kind of panic. Its one unmistakable message…is that we can have an American National Theater any time we want to. The materials are all there, ample and imperious and holding firm ground, on the stage of the Vivian Beaumont. My panic stems from the fear that we won’t get it, that we won’t hear what is being said, that, having come right to the edge of a discovery of our present powers, we will permit the decision to dissolve and the powers to scatter again as we always have through all of our long history.” He goes on to speak of the excellence of the play, of the cast and of your direction and to say that good actors would not be lacking for “five or six other companies just as good as the Little Foxes company…if anyone cared, or had the power, to call them together. We could have five or six productions a year just as rich, just as resonant, just as indigenous, just as serenely confident….”

With all of this I agree, and I would add that this production makes plain—what I have for a long time suspected—that you are something of a theatrical genius with an intelligence and imagination together with an ability to make them effective which are excessively rare on Broadway. You may remember that I used to see again and again—to a point at which I had almost ceased to laugh at the lines—your old show with Elaine May, in which you two were able, alone, to take command of the stage and put over on an enthusiastic audience original skits which were quite audacious in their unconventionality. Since them you seem to have brought a magic touch to three comedies which otherwise, I am told—I have only seen The Knack—could hardly have been so successful; you have managed, in the film you have made of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, to stimulate to some semblance of acting the attractive but—on her own admission—rather untalented Elizabeth Taylor; and you have directed Barbara Harris in a novel bill of three short musicals—one of them by Jules Feiffer but the other two, rather surprisingly, based on old stories by Mark Twain and Frank Stockton—which turned out to be—at any rate, for me—the most…

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