Beat Regeneration

When audiences dug the dexedrine-fueled, pot-stoked Nervous Set at the Crystal Palace back in 1959, St. Louis was like cool, man, cool

Jay Landesman founded a London publishing house, but his own writing remains ensnarled in the nostalgic past. His 1987 memoir Rebel Without Applause focuses on many of the same events depicted in The Nervous Set. He also wrote an unproduced film script that dramatizes those years. "There's a new book coming out about me," he adds. "It's going to be a great book. It's about the life I've led."

Asked about his memories of Ted Flicker, Landesman says, "All good. Ted Flicker was a very important character. He may not have gotten along too well with people, but he got along with me. I admired him."

What about Flicker's involvement in the Gaslight Square incarnation of the Crystal Palace? Was Flicker a partner?

Michael Austin
Before Gaslight Square was Gaslight Square: a postcard of the Crystal Palace's interior
Courtesy of Western Historical Manuscript Collecti
Before Gaslight Square was Gaslight Square: a postcard of the Crystal Palace's interior

"I don't remember any of that," Landesman replies. "Yeah, there was talk of that, but listen, you've got enough material for your story. I've gotta go now, Sweets."

End of conversation.

Most Broadway flops are relegated to oblivion, but The Nervous Set lives on, at least in lore. Jerry Berger tells a story about a reading of the play staged in New York by Fred Landesman's son Rocco, who's now a prominent Broadway producer. "It just all seemed so dated. [Playwright] Wendy Wasserstein was there. When Rocco asked her what she thought, she said, 'It's very simple: She didn't like his parties, and he didn't like her parties.' That's what she got out of The Nervous Set. But that isn't what people were getting back at the Crystal Palace."

But then, in 1959 The Nervous Set was not an isolated event. It was the culmination of something unique and unexpected: a brief, improbable season when St. Louis audiences reveled in theater productions as smart and savvy as any that were being offered anywhere in America.

In 1985, a quarter-century after the Broadway fiasco, the Theatre Factory mounted a successful local revival. And this week, after another nineteen-year hiatus, New Line Theatre is staging a second revival.

The press release for the production doesn't even mention Ted Flicker's name.

The New Line Theatre presents The Nervous Set March 4 through March 27 at the ArtLoft Theatre, 1529 Washington Avenue. Call 314-534-1111 for ticket information.

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