Gerome Ragni Walter Kerr

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Walter Kerr

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

I was made seriously uncomfortable in the theater … last week … by a naive strain of what I suppose we've got to call triumphalism. That is to say, I was … asked to believe in much too easy a victory….

[A second act sequence in "Rainbow"], I am sorry to say, curdled my blood.

It came about this way. The first half of the entertainment began with the levitation of an American soldier freshly killed in Vietnam, while all about his flag-draped bier a group of non-mourners in curiously old-fashioned psychedelic robes, eye spangles, red hands and daubed foreheads sang him a welcome to their heavenly Radio Rainbeam show….

James Rado's songs … were enlivening, whatever their derivation…. Mr. Rado's lyrics weren't helping quite as much ("I got a song to sing to you / I got a song to sing to you / I got a song to sing to you / It's such a happy song") and the occasional jokes the composer had concocted with the help of brother Ted weren't helping at all (learning that the soldier's father had been a butcher, a homosexual asked, "Is he more butch than you are?"). But no matter. The show jumps.

Just before intermission, as a gesture toward "book" and a possible point to come, the group decided to take the gala they had been romping through down to Washington, D.C., where, if they could present it for the President, the Vietnam war would surely be brought to an end. Would you believe that that's exactly what happened in the second act?

The President … no sooner met the youthful congregation than he was down on his knees, accepting from them a kind of baptismal rite, requesting forgiveness for deeds past. In a voice quavering with penitent good will he solemnly, liquidly announced, "I declare this war at an end."

It just so happened that "Rainbow's" opening night coincided with the resumption of the bombing of North Vietnam after the breaking-off of the peace talks, and the moment couldn't have been queasier. How young are these generally appealing children that they can imagine 42 songs—and 42 songs of the counterculture at that—achieving an objective that far more than 42 protests of various political and religious kinds have never achieved?

The gaucherie was suddenly appalling, no longer innocence but terrible self-deception, suggesting an isolation from reality that substituted wishful-thinking for genuine strength. Is the counterculture a cocoon from which only pipe-dreams are ever to emerge? I spent the next 20 minutes trying to shake every kind of dismay from my head. It didn't help the second act.

Walter Kerr, "Is That the Way to End the Vietnam War?" in The New York Times (© 1973 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), January 7, 1973 (and reprinted in The New York Times Theatre Reviews, The New York Times Company, 1975, p. 4).