Walter Kerr

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 500

Got the shock of my life. At "Shelter," an intimate musical surrounded by stereopticon slides, I found myself becoming quite accustomed to the notion that all of the orchestration for the tunes was being provided by a companionable computer named Arthur, whose lights blinked in rhythm to the notes being churned out. As one does at musicals, I found myself turning my head in Arthur's direction each time an intro began, accepting him (it?) as the source of all melody. Once, though, I saw something other than Arthur. I saw two ghostly hands, white, disembodied, waving frantically, like those of a drowning man making one last effort.

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Then I realized what, or whose, they were. They belonged to the conductor, the real conductor, hidden deep in the curtained orchestra pit conducting his real hidden orchestra. Yes, there was actual music being played here after all, just as there were actual people playing it—though only the most flashing of upbeats would bring those phantom fingers as high as the edge of the stage. It was a spooky feeling, whether one read symbolism into it or not. Before my very eyes all things human seemed to be going down, down, down.

That, by the way, is what "Shelter" is all about—or at least what it starts out to be all about…. [Actress Marcia Rodd] has a bit of a nervous breakdown while filming a commercial. She can stand the ersatz no longer, "Words are corrupt!" she cries, she announces that the ad men have already turned her into a cardboard standup….

TV writer Terry Kiser, skipping down an iron stairwell from the control booth, has a cure-all for her highly unprofessional hysteria. He has walked into the fake, lives there. He lives right on the studio set, night and day, getting Arthur to program his spring breezes, cockcrow sunrises, buttermilk skies. There is a fake flowering plum tree under which love may easily blossom. As Mr. Kiser points out, once you accept plastic flowers, you have bypassed fraudulence: they're real plastic flowers. The deception stops there. So why not adapt?

It's an amusing and possibly pertinent premise for a lightly ironic entertainment, the only trouble being that the rest of the entertainment doesn't have much to do with it. Mr. Kiser now proceeds to get Miss Rodd into his bed precisely as any less original man might, the brief idyll is interrupted by another of Mr. Kiser's flames in just the way idylls are normally interrupted, a wife eventually turns up to clear the area for her man as wives always have, plastic or no plastic. Even Arthur seems to wilt, rather, as routine bedroom farce replaces what started out as wryly inverted comment, and the loss of a slant is doubly disappointing in that "Shelter" is the work of Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford…. (p. 1)

Walter Kerr, "After an Amusing Premise, What?" in The New York Times, Section 2 (© 1973 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 18, 1973, pp. 1, 23.∗

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