Elizabeth Swados Edith Oliver - Essay

Edith Oliver

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

There is no story [to "Runaways"]—one number just follows another—but underneath run the themes of abandonment, anger, and bewilderment, and (lest you think all is unrelieved gloom and reproach) of chipper opportunism in any number of situations, and of innocence and humor and bravery and bravado. Rarely have I seen so much energy and spirit on a stage. In a sense, "Runaways" could be considered a confessional musical, like "A Chorus Line," in that the characters talk directly about themselves to the audience and act out their stories…. Although these characters are for the most part victims (and for the most part victims of parents), there is not a moment of sentimentality or commercial wistfulness. It is their remarkable toughness and their ability to improvise in one dangerous situation after another that set the tone of the performance…. [Although] the theme of "Runaways" is sad and often agonizing, the show raises the spirits. For some reason, however, it lacks the absolute authenticity, the firsthand quality, of "A Chorus Line"…—or, more aptly, of the original production of "Hair"…, which was also about street children. These characters seem to be composites—devised by the shrewd, intelligent, and gifted Miss Swados but composites all the same.

About Miss Swados' gifts there can be no question. Every word spoken on that stage, whether in lyrics or in lines or in recitations, is plausible, and so is every movement; the music, which comes in many varieties, is dynamic and theatrical and sounds like the music of no one else on earth. (p. 88)

Edith Oliver, in The New Yorker (© 1978 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), March 20, 1978.