With a well-groomed impudence and a cheerful antic wit, a new musical, "The Last Sweet Days of Isaac," arrived … last night for what should be a long stay. It is one of the most preposterous shows in New York and yet also one of the happiest.
I suspect that this very chic and up-to-the-second musical started out as a satire on the rock musical and the freaked-out generation. Yet in some strange way the approach seems to have been absorbed by the subject matter, and even if "The Last Sweet Days of Isaac" was intended as a kind of affectionate put-down, what has emerged is something very positive and extraordinarily attractive.
The book and lyrics by Gretchen Cryer and the music by Nancy Ford are easily among the best of the present Off Broadway crop…. The second half of the evening is marginally less entertaining than the first—but this is only a fleeting shadow on a fundamentally sunny night.
The first part of the show is set in an elevator. A stalled elevator—a frantic space, you might say, in stationary time. Occupying the space, trapped between life and death, are Isaac … and Ingrid….
[Isaac]—in the 33d year of his life and convinced that he is about to die—believes that life is really intense only when it is recorded. With a tape recorder and a camera, he has made his life-style into a collage. He is collecting his life. And now he meets [Ingrid]. They very nearly fall in love—he undressing her while she sings into his tape recorder—but the moment passes and, for that matter, the elevator is repaired.
The writing here … is often gorgeously ridiculous…. But what gives the incident its special flavor is the insight Miss Cryer is showing into our all-recorded, all-documented society.
A generation to whom the camera and recorder have become extensions of the human senses is equally the subject matter of the second play. This is also about Isaac—but an Isaac this time only 19 years old. He is a professional protester. The only time his mother sees him is when he is on television. And now protesting he is inadvertently killed—or perhaps he has not been killed—strangled by the strap of his movie camera. Satisfyingly, his always-loyal camera recorded his own death.
A girl, also a professional protester, is taken to a police cell and existentially—if you will pardon the phrase—reaches Isaac. Isaac is once more concerned with the recording of an entire life, so that it could be put in a library as a surrogate for people whose lives would normally have been less interesting.
Miss Cryer has a strange, interesting mind [which has] convoluted and occasionally repetitive thought….
I enjoyed the show …—I even liked its actual fumbling quality and absence of any focused viewpoint on youth and the camera.
Clive Barnes, "Happy Musical: 'Sweet Days of Isaac' Has Cast of Three," in The New York Times (© 1970 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), January 27, 1970, p. 49.