Unconventionality and complete lack and respect for nearly every tradition of the well-ordered American stage mark "Declassee" which opened at the Hollis on Monday. The play, an unusual product, was entertaining, at all times interesting, occasionally inspiring by reason of the able interpretation by Miss Ethel Barrymore. Taken by and large, however, it did not ring true; perhaps because there seemed to be no great single purpose either in the author's mind or in the producer's. It was a play whose only object could have been entertainment; even this was marred by a concluding death scene conclusion which left the audience bewildered and amazed.
"Declassee" marks no great advance in the dramatic art; neither is it one of the failures which fill the pages of American theatrical history. It is an oddity and as such it must be regarded. As oddity, however, carried out5 by Miss Barrymore at her best is decidedly worth seeing and on Monday evening Miss Barrymore played superbly. Her tremendous charm,--or magnetism, call it what you will--held the audience from beginning to end. Applause came regularly, violently, almost turbulently.
Ethel Barrymore, people have said, never plays a part, never really forgets her own personality. To a certain extent this is true in "Declassee", for she is cast in a part not entirely natural to her, and throughout the first part of the performance it was clear that she was making an effort to forget herself. Nevertheless, from the end of the opening scene, and throughout the play, she managed to build up a distinct character a living personality of moods and feeling well rounded out in every detail.
The story of the play is simple, but somewhat improbable. The plot opens with a quarrel between Lady Haden and her husband over an indiscreet love affair of hers. The object of this affection. Edward Thayer, is utterly unworthy, a cheat at cards and a fortune hunter. He has letters of Lady Haden's, uses them, and as a result, she and her husband are separated. Two years later she is discovered in New York, living on the proceeds of the sale of her jewels and by her wits. Various matrimonial opportunities present themselves, and after considerable cold calculation, she finally accepts the offer of Rudolf Soloman, selfmade man of unusual qualities. Thayer reappears, rehabilitated morally and financially--and then comes the misfit conclusion.
It is as the artistocratic Englishwoman that Miss Barrymore is unconvincing. She is in no sense a Briton, and the fact is painfully apparent, particularly when the scene is laid in England. In the later portions of the play, surrounded by Americans, she succeeds, largely because of contrast, in putting across her characterization, but by that time the audience is willing to take almost anything at its face value. Outside of this weakness, one almost entirely of nationality, Miss Barrymore is superb. She not only develops a character, but she lives it; more could not be asked.
The play is an oddity, as has been said, but it has some remarkably fine points. particularly in the matter of contrasts. Miss Alken, the author, has with consummate skill placed opposites side by side. Inherited and acquired refinement meet, and struggle with vulgarity and worse. Carelessness vies with efficiency; temperaments clash. Here and in the beauty of some of the lines (too often marred by imperfect diction) lies the achievement of the playwright.
Mention should be made of the excellent acting of Edward Emery as Solomon, the keen-witted connoisseur and merchant. The setting of the last act was also noteworthy