Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
Paddy Chayefsky, author of this year's highly topical film, "Network," began his play-writing career ahead of the fashions with "The Tenth Man," a drama of exorcism that belies its 18 years in Olney's admirably effective production. Tuesday night's opening began a three-week run.
Director Leo Brady's cast includes several fine performances: Pat Karpen's emotional portrait of the young girl possessed by a dybbuk: Albert M. Ottenheimer's compelling, often beautiful characterization of an rabbi who attempts the excorcism and Rudolph Willrich in the title role of the young disbeliever who is swept into the adventure.
Chayefsky remarks: "It is wiser to believe in dybbuks than in nothing at all." He wrote with purpose of prefering faith to cynicism and employed a believeable range of characters to illustrate not only in point but also his belief than a religious drama can be a richly entertaining one.
At first the tone is light. The sexton needs a tenth man to complete the proper congregation for morning prayers. Three old men chatter of their empty lives, of daughters-in-law and cemeteries. One of the usual members cannot attend. His granddaughter is mad and needs family attention.
The girl, Evelyn, is possessed by a dybbuk, that is, a spirit in search of a body so that her obsequies may be made properly. Is this true or is it merely old superstition?
Chayefsky balances his plot with consummate care, his sets of realism, character and humor forming a far more credible plot than the several novels and films which have enjoyed recent vogue. His unity of time, place and actions, so hard to achieve, provides a strong foundation and the play maintains the narrative power it had when Tyrone Guthrie first staged it 1959.
Karpen must be one of the best of our young actresses and it's only a matter of time before she will be more widely known. She has the emotional force and freedom to make the character dynamic but at the same time credible. Ottenheimer's eloquent old man is a masterly characterization by this long-admired player. As the young man, so accidentally involved, Willrich finds theatricalism for carefully chisled detachment.
There is steady work in the 10 other parts, most notably from Karl Don, as the cynic of the congregation, and David Little, as the rabbi, new to this congregation and just as anxious to make good as a rabbi as his colleagues in Catholic-Protestant faiths. Rolf Beyer again provides an evocative, workable setting worthy of Chayefsky's sturdy, absorbing drama.