The Brooklyn Daily Eagle from Brooklyn, New York on March 18, 1951 · Page 31
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The Brooklyn Daily Eagle from Brooklyn, New York · Page 31

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Sunday, March 18, 1951
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0 w Cwttaitt7tme By. LOUIS SHEAFFCR Lillian Hellman Digs More Deeply in The Autumn Garden' IN "THE AUTUMN GARDEN," Lillian Hellman has provided a rich, provocative and absorbing evening at the the theater, but hat isn't its predominant virtue. What's more important is the gratifying evidence it contains that one of our leading playwrights continues to grow, that she isn't content to mark time by repeating herself, content to sharpen and polish still further the sort of things she has already done with exceptional success. Naturally, all of us would have enjoyed another play as taut and exciting as "The Little Foxes" or another "Watch on the Rhine," noble in spirit and powerfully movingthey're two of the worthiest plays of our generation. But It's of greater importance, I think, to discover with "The Autumn Garden" that Miss Hellman has become a deeper, more compassionate and philosophic human being. And a more perceptive writer. Venturing into new territory, new as far as her own work is concerned, she has widened her horizon. It's impossible to guess where she will go from here. After turning out several of our finest plays, she Is .still a playwright in transit. I find that a heartening prospect. 'The Autumn Garden" li Miss Hellman's ripest, most mature play to date, even though, paradoxical as this might sound, It isn't her most skillful, more nearly perfect piece of writing. In "The Children's Hour" and "Another Part of the Forest," as well as "The Little Foxes" and "Watch on the Rhine," the playwright came closer to achieving what she had set out to do. She was in complete control almost continuously, like an efficient ringmaster, of her materials. Every little piece was clean, neat and sharp, and everything fitted neatly into its proper place to leave a clear-cut Impression. Well, everything isn't so neat in "The Autumn Garden," the characters as manageable, the story line as tight and suspenseful, but only because the playwright wasn't writing that kind of a play this time. Where she once wrote like a De Maupassant, striving for a lean, muscular impact, she's now writing somewhat like a discipl of Chekhov, posing more problems than she answers; not at all certain that she knows the answers, more willing to give her fellow-man the benefit of the doubt, less ready to condemn. If the new play isn't her best realized one, it's because she has taken on her most formidable assignment. This time, instead of boiling a pack of rascals in their own venom or giving our conscience the hot-foot by taking a militant, high-minded stand against the bullies of the world, Miss Hellman Is primarily interested in revealing character. And, it happens, she has never looked so deeply Into her people or drawn them as truly. The group of people she has assembled at a genteel Summer resort on the Gulf Coast, most of them middle-aged, provide one of the meatiest plays of the season. In various ways, all of them are dissatisfied or confused or unhappy. A playboy-artist, who lives off his wealthy wife and tries to hide from the realization that he's a fifth-rate talent, relieves his boredom by maliciously interfering In the lives around him. His wife dislikes herself for loving him, but can't stop it. A retired general, a decent, reflective soul, Is tragically mismated with a chattery, foolish matron who can't help behaving like a coy young Southern belle. A bachelor, once in love with the pleasant-looking old maid who owns the resort, is quietly drinking his life away. The resort keeper's niece, a refugee, is engaged for expediency's sake to a neurotic weakling but would much rather be home in France with her mother, even though poverty awaits her there. Only the girl and her fiance's grandmother, an outspoken, wealthy old dowager, are sensible and realistic. The rest are a pretty ineffectual lot. But by the time "The Autumn Garden" is through, all the characters understand themselves better, are less able to kid themselves that a miraculous tomorrow will somehow straighten out their frustrated lives and so they will live happily ever after. Tomorrow, Miss Hellman Is saying, is the inevitable, inescapable result of all the yesterdays. It's not a startlingly original thought but it is a mature one, and around it the playwright has written a keenly intelligent, thoroughly engrossing play. Sure, It has its faults. Several of the characters aren't sufficiently illuminated. The various little plots don't always hang together smoothly. But Its good points far outshine the others? Among other things, "The Autumn Garden" offers some exceptionally rich acting opportunities to the right cast and, under Harold Clurman's sensitive direction, they have been beautifully realized at the Coronet. There's no other play in town that has such a solid Itneup of excellent performances. Fredric March as the artist, Florence Eldridge ss the fluttery matron, Ethel Griffies as the sharp-tongued dowager, Kent Smith as the alcoholic, Jane Wyatt as March's wife and Joan Lorring as the refugee girl all do some really brilliant work. And there's some fine playing by Colin Keith-Johnston and Carol Goodner. "The Autumn Garden" represents progress in Lillian Hellman's career. I wonder where she'll go next. lit X'l, " jr- II . lwiiim hi t i - ' ' ' ' THE COUNTRY GIRL,' Clifford Oders' hit drama at the Lyceum .Theater, co-stars Paul Kelly and Uta Hagen in a realistic study of backstage life and a marriage drifting toward the rocks. Sherwood's Visit To Chicago Ends In a New Comedy I Robert E. Sherwood, four-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, has completed a new play entitled "Girls With Dogs," which the Playwrights' Company expects to produce early next season. A modern comedy set in a Chicago apartment house and centered around a (doctor, who helps others In the building solve their problems, personal and otherwise. ! Mr. Sherwood, who is a fast 'worker, wrote his new play during a visit to Chicago last month 11 years, to the month since he last visited that city. In February, 1950, he was in Chicago working with lfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne on his script of "There Shall Be No Night." Since then, he has i written only one other original play, "The Rugged Path," having been busy working for the Overseas Branch of the O. W. I. during the war and spent two years on his Pulitzer award biography, "Roosevelt, and Hop kins." !, Screenings 0. By 0 - JANE COUBY 1 Grandma Reaches Broadway Via Dishes and Poetry Route A grandmother recently made her Broadway debut. She didn't make it in any tottery, little old lady role, either, but as an energetic, smartly dressed professional woman, for Elizabeth Kerr that's grandma's name happens to be one of the young est-looking grandmothers ever to hit Broadway. The play in which she has at long last realized the goal of her girlhood dreams is "Angel in the Pawnshop," starring Eddie Dowling at the Booth Tneater. Now that she has finally KENT SMITH PLAYS the alcoholic and Carol Goodner" the resort-keeper in Lillian Hellman's "Th Autumn Garden," at the Coronet Theater, t&$mrwr " J '1 L Jt f. ' Elizabeth Kerr made it, Miss Kerr remembers a number of things ajong the way. She remembers that housekeeping was never one of her favorite types of exercise and, to get it done efficiently, she followed the advice of one of her former teachers, who had said. "Don't just wash dishes. Recite poetry while you do it, and then you'll accomplish something and have fun, too." She applied this technique to everything. If it weren't poetry and dishes, it was the recitation of a dramatic part with the laundry. Besides Joining any little theater group wher ever she happened to be living, Miss Kerr tried radio work. "1 found." she says, "that with a short program I could easily fill a morning engagement and still get home in time to cook the children's lunch. A stage career was always Miss Kerr s ambition but parental objections, marriage and motherhood combined to keep her out of the professional theater. She never lost sight of her goal, though. Her husband's work kepi them travel ing and when the family remained in a city for any length of time, mother would turn part-time actress. When they finally settled in California, her work with an amateur com pany attracted the attention of a movie talent scout and she was signed to her first film contract. Texas Encounter Miss Kerr's appearance In "Angel in the Pawnshop" stemmed from a meeting with Eddie Dowling over two years ago when they worked in the tryout of a play at Houston, Texas. The play died at the end of a week, but her performance impressed Mr. Dowl ing and he told her he'd give her a chance if she ever came to New York. He made good on that promise by casting her for the role of Priscilla Nash, the literary agent in the Booth's comedy, a scene stealing part if ever there was one. And how does her family feel about Mother's Broadway debut? Well, her husband is thrilled, but their two sons the one who made her a grandmother is an Indiana University instructor; the other's a medical student regard the whole thing with tolerant amusement, she reports, as "on of Mom's projects. "I guess you lust cant be a hero to your own family." Sorry, Mr. MacArthur, But The House Seats Are Gone By EMALIXE MECHANIC (Production Secretary, "Twentieth Centirr") Knowing Charles Frohman never made any difference. And knowing a man who knew a man who knew Charles Frohman, which was usually the case, made, of course, less difference when a Frohman production was a sell-out. His private secretary probably lived to a ripe old age. And she doubtlessly never dreamt of a nice little job in a boiler factory to soothe her fraying nerves. Ah, but this Is the "Twentieth Century!" Since the days of the Frohmans, Dillinghams, Bel-ascos, some unsung theatrical genius stayed awake nights and thought up the idea of HOUSE SEATS. 'House seats' means that if you "know a man who," etc., you're entitled to pick up your telephone, call your friend who calls his friend who does likewise until the chain reaches the "Twentieth Century" office where there's a little black book containing a few allocations for the Jose Ferrer-Gloria Swan-son production now at the Fulton Theatre, playing nightly to capacity, and twice weekly at matinees. Too Many Requests That sounds simple enough till the allocations are meted out to those who have already called and then the fun be gins. There are soon two, then three and more rivals for each seat and no couple, looking forward to an evening at "Twentieth Century," seems to want another couple sitting in its lap. (They re so conventional that way 1 ve asked a few of them.) February or March or April won't do either. It must be in three days, or two days, or, more usually, tonight, the phone calls insist. "They're coming in from Philadelphia; from Boston; from Bangor, Maine, on the next plane and only to see 'Twentieth Cen tury'." They never come from Woonsocket, R. I. Thats too close by. "And if Mr. V. I. P. can't see 'Twentieth Century'," they go on indignantly, "do you know what the disappointment will mean to him? His psychia trist will have to start all over again!" Part-Time Typist So run the sparkling monologues all day long into my ear. In between calls, I type a word or two of important correspondence for Richard Condon, Jose Ferrer's associate producer on the play. And one of these days a letter will get finished, Mr. Condon, I promise. All the transactions take place amid four or five tapping typewriters, a busily buzzing switchboard, some 20 hardworking men and women (and their assorted visitors), with every now and then a flying visit from Jose Ferrer. Meanwhile, we become sadder and ANTA Sponsoring France's Louis Jouvet in Moliere Play Under the sponsorship of the American National Theater and Academy, Louis Jouvet, celebrated French film and stage star, will appear with his Paris company in Moliere's "School for Wives" at the ANTA Playhouse for a limited en-gegement to n i g h t through Tuesday, April 3. Jouvet, who plays the pre tentious Arnophele in Molier's famous comedy, is familiar to audiences in this country through his film roles, includ ing his unforgettable chaplain in "Carnival in Flanders" and the crafty Mosca in "Volpone." The star has presented "School for Wives" over 550 times. His long career includes success in such famous French hits as Claudel's "L'Announce Faite a Marie," "Dr. Knock," by Jules Romains; Molier's "Tartuffe" and three Giraudaux works, "Amphitryon 388," "L'Apollon de Marsac" and "Siegfried." Offspring of two well-known French artists are featured in Jouvet's troupe. Dominique Blanchar, daughter of actor Pierre Blanchar, who was the pastor in "Symphonie Pastorale," plays the beautiful young wrad who proves that Innocence and ignorance are not the same. Pierre Renoir, an other featured player, is the so of the noted painter, Au-guste Renoir and brother of Jean Renoir, well-known film director. The cast, direct from the Theater de l'Athenee, also Includes Monique Melinand, Fernand-R em, Leo Lapara, Jean Richard, Michel Etche- verry, George Riquier and Rene Besson. The original sets and costumes for "School for Wives," brought over from Paris, are by Christian Berard, who did the decor for "The Madwoman of Chaillot" and the Jean Coc-teau movie, "Beauty an the Beast." Jose Ferrer sadder as we report on the condition of the "house seat" list. The saddest call of all, perhaps, was the time a pleasant-voiced gentleman on the wire mentioned who he was and we had to answer, "I'm sorry, Mr. Mac-Arthur, but the house seats are gone." Thus Charles MacArthur, coauthor with Ben Hecht of "Twentieth Century," couldn't buy the house seats he wanted for his friends! First Night THE SCHOOL FOR WIVES, opening tonight at ANTA Playhouse, stars Louis Jouvet as the middle-aged suitor, with Jean Richard as his young rival. TONIGHT THE SCHOOL FOR WIVES, at ANTA Playhouse. The American National Theater and Academy presents Louis Jouvet and his Theatre de l'Athenee company in the Moliere classic. The cast features Dominique Blanchar, Monique Melinand, Fernand-Rene, Pierre Renoir, Leo Lapara, Jean Richard, Michael Etcheverry, Georges Righier and Rene Besson. Sets and costumes by Christian Berard. 'Flahooley' Musical Signs More Players Cheryl Crawford has signed Barbara Cook for the ingenue lead in the Harburg-Saidy-Fain musical comedy "Flahooley," now being rehearsed by Messrs. Harburgand Saidy, with Louis Nye and Nehemia Persoff as other new cast recruits. Ernest Truex will be the leading come dian in the show and other prominent spots will be filled by Yma Sumac, Irwin Corey, Edith Atwater, Jerome Court- land and the Bill Baird Marionettes. Film 'Molly' Is a Kind of Bonus For Millions of Radio and TV Fans GERTRUDE BERG fainted once. It was when she was told she would get $2,000 a w eek for "The Goldbergs," when she finally found a sponsor for what she was hoping would be a radio serial. That was in 1931. The show continued on the air for 17 weeks, transferred to the stage in 1917 as "Me and Molly," later became a TV show, and Is currently in film form under the title "Molly," at the N. V. Paramount. The day It opened, Mrs. Berg made personal appearances all day, at the theater, choosing a different apron fiom a pile in her dressing room to put on over her navy blue frock. "Molly is so used to gay little aprons that she can't appear without one," explained the writer-actress, who admits that she has written about Molly, played Molly so long that she can't decide where Molly leaves off and Gertrude Berg begins. Certainly the two personalities are inextricably combined In the public mind. "IMS of people call her Molly," said her secretary, Fannie Merrill, who has been with her since "The Goldbergs" started, and who accompanies her everywhere. "Today she had a typical tribute, as she started for the Paramount stage entrance. A truck driver leaned out of his cab and shouted, 'Hi, Molly!'" Between Molly's Mrs. Berg's pile of fetching aprons, gay with ruffles and appliqued designs, and the flowers sent by friends, her dressing room looked like an Easter display featuring lengthy red roses and big yellow tulips. The film "Molly" follows the pattern of the now classic Bronx family story, with desperate but minor family crises arising from Molly's persistent determination to handle other people's problems. In this case she tries to help out an old suitor who has never married, but who is now engaged to a girl young enough to be his daughter, when, as Molly realizes, he would be much happier if he married the comely young widow who lives in her apartment house. Molly's efforts to make her own dreams come true have far-reaching and very nearly disastrous results, but turn out comfortably enough at the picture's end. The film "Molly" Is unique. Its story is slight, and the outcome is never in doubt. It depends on none of the usual high-powered tricks to win audience attention, and certainly has no unusual camera effects to intrigue the jaded' public. But the film's very lack of these attributes throws into relief the phenomenal appeal of this character Molly. In the role she has created, or in the way she plays the role, or both, Gertrude Berg has caught something basic, and everybody recognizes it, even if it is almost impossible to analyze just what It is that inevitably stirs a response in her audience. Gertrude Berg is the wife of Lewis Berg, a sugar technologist, and the mother of two children (just like Molly Goldberg). Her daughter, Harriet, is a script writer for a radio show; her son, Cherney, now at Yale, is interested in music. Born Gertrude Edelstein In the heart of New York City, her father was the owner of a Manhattan movie house and alsp ran a Summer hotel at Highmount, N. Y. At 12. the future Molly wrote a skit which was successfully performed on the porch of the hotel, with the result that the youngster decided then and there to be a playwright. Later, at Columbia University, she studied writing and dramatics. "The Goldbergs" were born as one result of the 1D20 depression, with Mrs. Berg's determination to help pull the family budget out of the red. She began to test her writing and acting talents. She was cast in a play, and fired during rehearsals for inexperience. She turned to radio and marie an occasional $5 by reading recipes over the air. She sold a one-broadcast show. The forerunner of "The Goldbergs" was a radio serial about a Bronx family, which Mrs. Berg sold for $75 a week, paying the salaries of the entire cast out of this sum. Ilpr script was written in longhand, mid to this day she writes all her scripts in the same way. "That's really why I'm in the show myself," explained Mrs. Berg. "When I sent in my first Goldberg story to the broadcasting station, nobody could read it. So I was asked to come in and read it aloud. "That's great,' they told me. 'Molly's wonderful. But nobody else could do Molly. You'll have to go on the air yourself.' " It's going on 21 years now that Molly has been on the air, and she is credited with having 10,000,000 faithful radio listeners, plus additional as yet uncounted television fans. The film "Molly" is just a kind of bonus for this vast unseen audience. HITS CENTURY MARK Cole Porter's "Out of This World," starring Charlotte Greenwood, gave its 100th performance at the Century Theater last night. BROOKLYN EAGLE, SUN , MAR. 18, 195) 31

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