Time Magazine
August 9, 1982

Slain Dragon:

'The Death of von Richthofen as Witnessed from Earth' by Des McAnuff


Presumably McAnuff, who wrote, composed and directed this "play with flying and songs," knows what it is all about, but he isn't telling.

'The Death of Von Richthofen as Witnessed from Earth' is incredibly self-indulgent, pretentious, inane, murky and interminable.

Stage right features a sandbagged gun emplacement manned by two semi-jocular Australian gunners (Robert Joy and Mark Linn-Baker), whom McAnuff apparently fantasizes as clones of Waiting for Godot's Estragon and Vladimir. Stage left features the ornate living quarters of the Red Dragon, Manfred Von Richthofen (John Vickery), who is sometimes joined by his adjutant (Jeffrey Jones) and a swishy fellow pilot in the Flying Circus named Hermann Goering (Bob Gunton).

The ramshackle plot concerns Von Richthofen's destiny after he makes his 80th kill. Some of his fellow officers and the unseen General Erich Ludendorff urge him to retire from the Flying Circus so that he may present himself as the untarnished hero-leader of postwar Germany's resurrection. There is no historical evidence for this. In the play, Von Richthofen shows no stomach for the task but seems to have a premonition about who does. An ominous-looking lance corporal (Mark Petrakis) skulks about the Red Dragon's quarters, and when he launches into a demagogic diatribe about how hard and ruthless Germans need to be, we realize that this is Hitler.

Intended as ironic comment and counterpoint, the 21 songs in the show offer only the anesthetic sounds of Muzak. When a low-flying Von Richthofen is machine-gunned down by the Australians, it is not the historical inaccuracy that counts (he was probably felled by a Canadian R.A.F. pilot) but the fact that his death touches no nerve. That is not John Vickery's fault, for he and the rest of the cast perform feats of acting valor with a script that goes AWOL from the curtain's rise.

Joseph Papp's Public Theater, where Von Richthofen is housed, has been in a serious dramatic slump for the past two seasons. Surely, the one way not to soar again is to jettison sense, taste and judgment.

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