'Taste of Honey': a winner returns

A Taste of Honey, Play by Shelagh Delaney. Directed by Tony Tanner. Twenty years ago, "A Taste of Honey" won plaudits and prizes in its premiere New York engagement. The poignant and comic study of a lonely Lancashire 18 -year-old was the remarkable first play of a Lancashire 19-year-old, Shelagh Delaney. Introduced by Joan Littlewood at her Theatre Royal in London, the play later moved to West End success and subsequently to Broadway. Now it has been revived at Roundabout/Stage Two for what is said to be the first major local production since 1960.

As staged by Tony Tanner, Miss Delaney's moving but unsentimental account of a mother-daughter relationship retains its comic abrasiveness, no-nonsense realism, and deeply genuine compassion for the central figure in a bleak situation. Jo (Amanda Plummer), the offspring of a loose-living, casualy unmaternal mother, strives to discover a self-reliant sense of her own identity. Amid the daunting squalor of a Salford tenement, Jo struggles against the inner darkness that frightens her.

The nature of the struggle and the strengths with which Jo faces it are admirably conveyed in the Roundabout revival. Miss Plummer is sturdily waiflike, Jo, an almost motherless child whose sharp tongue and spiky behavior are parts of the armament of a vulnerable romantic. Jo fights disillusionment by refusing to indulge in illusions. Yet she will not yield to despair or conspire in her own defeat. Miss Plummer illumines this mercurial role with the subtlety, comic zest, and emotional power it demands.

The sweet-and-sour elements of Miss Delaney's comedy are sharply captured by Valerie French as Jo's delinquent parent, Helen; John Carroll as the prosperous but obnoxious car dealer to whom Helen is briefly married; Tom Wright as the black sailor to whom Jo gives herself and who leaves her pregnant; and Keith Reddin as the art student, a homosexual, who shows a disinterested concern which provides a touch of humanity to the bleak situation.

"A Taste of Honey" was designed by Roger Mooney (setting), A. Christina Giannini (costumes), and Robert W. Mogel (lighting).

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