New York Times
August 10, 1982

Critic's Notebook:

Daredevil Musical Provides Some Novel Credits


There are two novel credits in the program for Des McAnuff's ''The Death of von Richthofen as Witnessed From Earth,'' a daredevil musical at the Public Theater. The credits are ''Automation and Flying Rigs by Feller Precision Inc.'' and ''Dog by Fred Nihde.'' One assumes that Feller Precision is the Feller scene shop, a primary builder of traditional, three-walled stage rooms, and that the concern is now apparently making an advance into the aerospace industry.

As designed by Douglas W. Schmidt, ''von Richthofen'' takes lavish advantage of all sorts of flying and falling devices. The baron himself (John Vickery) climbs into a mockup of a World War I fighting plane, which looks like a mechanical mutation of a praying mantis, and he flies 10 feet off the ground. There is also a scene in the basket of a flying balloon (several seasons ago at the Yale Repertory Theater in ''An Attempt at Flying,'' there was an actual hot-air balloon on stage).

At various moments in ''von Richthofen'' an aviator floats down to his death and a field soldier rises into the sky while playing a piano. At one point, Mr. Vickery appears to levitate, a magic trick for which one could perceive no wires. Mr. Schmidt is a proved master at such technological wizardry. He placed a railroad car on stage for ''The Crazy Locomotive'' (directed by Mr. McAnuff at the Chelsea Theater Center) and was the inventor of the mad doctor's laboratory in the play ''Frankenstein.'' When ''von Richthofen'' closes, the scenery could be transplanted to the Smithsonian Institution's Air and Space Museum, to be on exhibition along with such American classics as the Spirit of St. Louis and the Starship Enterprise.

Mr. Nihde's Dog fits more naturally under the category of properties (for critics it is often as difficult to differentiate between scenery and properties as it is between direction and performance). The dog is a large inanimate wolfhound, the baron's pet, which sits silently on stage for the entire evening, with his tail tied to a desk with a red bow. For the record, its name is Moritz, not Snoopy. As for the actors, it is one thing to be upstaged by animals and children, quite another to be upstaged by a stuffed dog.

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