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Quintero in the Square

BY Barbara Gelb
FROM The New York Times, February 16, 1964

José Quintero, who, at the age of 39, still conveys an impression of quixotic youth, will establish some sort of record on Thursday when "Marco Millions" opens at the ANTA Washington Square Theater.  The revival of Eugene O'Neill's 36-year-old satirical drama marks Mr. Quintero's fifth New York production, within eight years, of an O'Neill work.  And with its unveiling, Mr. Quintero seems simultaneously to be burning his bridges behind him and building castles in the air.

Under the influence of the same spiritual narcotic that has caused Elia Kazan to devote himself to the vision of a repertory theater, Mr. Quintero is pinning his future almost exclusively on the Lincoln Center.  He has a contract to direct four plays there over a flexible period of time.

He has severed his connection with the Circle in the Square, which he helped make famous, and which made him famous.  His only hope of averting future insolvency (for the repertory will not make him, nor anyone else connected with it, rich) is an option on O'Neill's "Mourning Becomes Electra" and a tenuous commitment to direct Paul Osborn's new play, "Film of Memory."  The former work, whose casting thus far has defeated him, is vaguely planned as a West Coast production that may be brought to Broadway after an extended tour.  The latter work, also earmarked for Broadway, hinges on the cliché of theatrical imponderables, "the availability of the right star."

But Mr. Quintero, who has never been a cautious man even by Latin standards, does not worry very much over the state of his bank account.  To be working with the repertory company and, particularly, to be directing an O'Neill play, is for him the highest artistic satisfaction.  O'Neill is the dramatist for whom, of off contemporary writers, Mr. Quintero has the greatest empathy -- a point he has empathized by his noteworthy productions of "The Iceman Cometh," "Long Day's Journey Into Night," "Desire Under the Elms" and "Strange Interlude."

It is this fact that partly influenced Mr. Kazan and Robert White head to invite Mr. Quintero to join the repertory company.  "Marco Millions" had already been selected as one of the company's three initial productions when Mr. Quintero was approached.

He began preparing for "Marco Millions" last July, and found that it occupied him to the exclusion of all other work.  His fee as director is $4,000, the total income he has earned during the seven-month period.  The pinch became so severe recently that his telephone was shut off for several weeks because he could not pay his bill.

Mr. Quintero is as fond as the next man of creature comforts, but he would happily make the sacrifice again -- and probably will.

"I need to believe in doing something much bigger than just a play," he says.

Although he was familiar with "Marco Millions" before accepting the job of directing it, as he is with all of O'Neill's 45 published plays, Mr. Quintero found it full of surprises when he took it up again last summer.

"It's better than I remembered it," he said.  "Its satire is so timely.  It's different form O'Neill's other plays.  Most of them are confined, physically.  This one goes all over the world.  It's a magician's show.

No Scene Cuts

"I haven't cut a single scene or character -- I understand several things were cut in the original production.  People say O'Neill's plays are repetitious, but he wrote like a composer, building theme on theme.  In 'Marco' he says a thing in detail; then he says it in a condensed form; then he says it in pantomime; he knows exactly what he's doing when he repeats himself."

The choice of Mr. Quintero as the director to alternate with Mr. Kazan the first season was based not only on his experience with O'Neill but also on his extensive experimentation with arena-style directing off Broadway.  For Mr. Quintero, the challengingly open stage of the company's contemporary theater poses few technical problems; he has learned how to use suggestions of scenery and paths of light to make up for the lack of conventional trappings.  In "Marco," which calls for lavish settings in Venice, Cathay, Persia, India, and Mongolia, he will tap (with the help of his long-time associate, the designer, David Hayes) every piece of lighting equipment on the theater's switchboard.

In an early scene, for example, he will flood the stage and much of the auditorium with rippling blue light, to evoke what he hopes will be a network of Venetian canals; he will try to create the effect of a gondola by revolving a segment of the stage, while Marco Polo seems to be propelling it with a long pole.

One phase of the production that continued to puzzle Mr. Quintero until almost the final week of rehearsal was what to do about the play's epilogue.  Dropped from the original production in 1928, the epilogue is a sly attempt on O'Neill's part to force home his point about man's complacency.  It shows Marco Polo, a sleek, rich, middle-aged businessman, sitting in the audience, blinking with stolid disbelief at the play, yawning and stretching, and then walking off into the night.

"I wanted very much to use the epilogue," Mr. Quintero said.  "But of course it's impossible to use it literally.  I'm using part of it, and I hope -- I think -- it will work."

Another factor that qualifies Mr. Quintero for his present assignment is his demonstrated flair for discovering new acting talent.  He was consulted about many of the present members of the company and himself brought in several of its most important members, including Hal Holbrook and David Wayne, who have leading roles in "Marco Millions."  The company's star performer, Jason Robards Jr., was discovered by Mr. Quintero and given his first important role in the Circle in the Square's revival of "The Iceman Cometh" in 1956.


During rehearsals of "Marco Millions" Mr. Quintero found that working in repertory created its own peculiar problems, quite different from those of Broadway or Off Broadway.  Although time is theoretically limitless, in practice this was not true.  The theater was occupied evenings and two matinees a week by "After the Fall," and many of the actors in "Marco" also perform in the Arthur Miller play, necessitating their sleeping late.

"Ideally," he says, "I would like to see four more directors working with the company on a permanent basis, and exchanging ideas."

Thus far, there has been no such exchange between Mr. Quintero and Mr. Kazan; there seems, for the moment, to be a tacit, hands-off policy, presumably to allow each of the directors to become acclimated to repertory.  Mr. Quintero attended no rehearsals of "After the Fall," and Mr. Kazan, who is now rehearsing the company's third play, S. N. Behrman's "But for Whom Charlie," has been too busy -- or too tactful -- to look in on "Marco Millions."

Mr. Quintero has no idea, yet, what his other assignments for the company will be.  He would like to do a Chekhov play, and, of course, more O'Neill.

He is rueful about the recent disagreement he had with Theodore Mann, his partner at the Circle in the Square.

"Someday, if Ted and I can get back to seeing eye to eye on the artistic policy of the theater," he said," I'll do a play there again."


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