C(ecil) P(hillip) Taylor THE TIMES, london - Essay

THE TIMES, london

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Cecil P. Taylor, who ranks almost as the house dramatist of the Traverse Theatre Company, has won admiration as the comic laureate of Glasgow-Jewish Marxism; a limited field, but his own. [With Who's Pinkus, Where's Chelm? he] has now deserted it in favour of straight Jewish folklore with a resultant loss of wit, technique, and sense.

Chelm, in Jewish legend, is the town which God accidentally peopled entirely with fools—a smug community with no idea of how they compare with the world outside. Mr. Taylor's hero is one of its lowest citizens; an unemployed salesman who goes off to seek his fortune in the next town, but loses his way and finds himself back in Chelm. However, he has had a change of heart on the road and is, moreover, wearing a new suit; so the town that spurned him now puts all its business into his hands and makes him president of the synagogue.

The possibilities of this fable are ruined in the telling. Mr. Taylor gives it neither a fairy tale nor a socially realistic setting; all he provides is a standard stage Jewish framework (crafty Rabbi, garrulously possessive wife, &c.), which omits the allimportant element of general idiocy: without this preparation, the turning point of the tale—where Pinkus and his home-town confront one another as if they had never met before—is impossible to swallow. And all that emerges from it is a restatement of Willie Loman's simple faith in Death of a Salesman that self-confidence and a good shoe-shine guarantee success.

Lacking wit, character, or invention, the writing does little more than register basic events….

"Musical Hewn from Folk Tale," in The Times, London (© Times Newspapers Limited 1967), January 4, 1967, p. 6.