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Mysterious Moose Seen Holding Inflatable Deer Head Emblazoned With Miller High Life Logo

from the New York Times

A Broadway Flop Again Raises Its Antlers

It is generally not a good sign for a Broadway show when people leave the opening-night party early. That is what Arthur Bicknell noticed at the celebration for the premiere of his play. As soon as the dessert forks were down, there they went, acquaintances, cast members, even family, out the door of Sardi’s restaurant. A friend finally approached with a report on the reviews.

Two words: “the worst.”

Indeed they were. The play was “Moose Murders,” and even now, 25 years later, it is considered the standard of awfulness against which all Broadway flops are judged.

photo by Gerry Goodstein 1983

Things weren’t so grim at the L & M bowling lanes in Rochester, N.Y., on Friday night, when a cast of nonprofessional — most barely even amateur — actors had just finished a second performance of “Moose Murders” at the Rochester Contemporary Art Center. The show, a staged reading but with original music, was put together by John Borek, 58, a self-described “part-time conceptual artist” who works by day as an aide to a Rochester city councilman. 

“Maybe Broadway had its chance, and they blew it,” Mr. Borek said. “Maybe it will have a more receptive audience as a work of art.” It is certainly true that Broadway audiences were less than receptive.

“If your name is Arthur Bicknell — or anything like it — change it,” declared Dennis Cunningham, the critic at the CBS affiliate in New York.

Critics described “Moose Murders” as “titanically bad” and “indescribably bad,” a play that “would insult the intelligence of an audience consisting entirely of amoebas” (Brendan Gill, The New Yorker), that looked as it were staged by “a blind director repeatedly kicked in the groin” (John Simon, New York magazine). The columnist Liz Smith had some nice things to say, Mr. Bicknell recalled.

Years later, Frank Rich, who was then the theater critic for The New York Times, would call it “the worst play I’ve ever seen on a Broadway stage.” (Mr. Rich’s writings about “Moose Murders” have become such a part of its lore that a recent production of the play in Manila credited Mr. Rich with having written the play.)

The reviews, which were not helped by the man reeking of vomit who sat in the third row during a press preview, made the 14 performances of “Moose Murders” legendary in theater history.

[Mr. Bicknell] tried to move on, writing another play and even a midnight drag show, but eventually gave up and worked for a few years as a literary agent. Someone tried to get permission to turn the play into a musical called “Moose Murders: The Afterbirth,” Mr. Bicknell said, but he was not ready for that.

[ In the new production,] the mysterious moose character was a woman dressed in black holding an inflatable deer head emblazoned with the Miller High Life logo. Sidney Holloway, the mummified quadriplegic, was played by a mannequin, whose head rolled off during the first act.

The audience members, most of them anyway, seemed to love it.

[ click to read full article at ]

Posted on April 22, 2008 by Editor

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