Lolita, Starring Donald Sutherland. Play by Edward Albee. Adapted from the novel by Vladimir Nabakov. Directed by Frank Dunlop. As the latest exhibit in a season of accumulating disasters, "Lolita" demonstrates that spurious controversy cannot rescue a meretricious entertainment.
The Edward Albee play, which closes at the Brooks Atkinson Theater on Saturday, was adapted -- with interpolations -- from the 1955 Vladimir Nabokov novel which became notorious but which was acclaimed by serious critics as a genuine literary achievement. Mr. Albee has retained the central situation: the perverted and reckless obsession of a middle-aged European emigre intellectual (Donald Sutherland) with an American sub-teenager (Blanche Baker).
But the subtleties and insights of the original have been eliminated in favor of a smirky, vulgarly explicit sex comedy in which Nabokov's theme is trivialized and his characters reduced to crude caricatures.
A writer of genuine stature and accomplishment, Mr. Albee has been going through what one can only hope is a temporary decline. The theater needs the gifts on which his reputation was built. After "Lolita," there would seem to be only one dir ection for him to go.