This review of "The Moon is a Gong", the play by John Dos Passos '16 which the Dramatic Club produced last night in Brattle Hall, was written for the Crimson by John Howard Lawson, the author of "Processional".
In a darkened theatre the blinding spotlight reveals a jazz band in Pierrot costumes. The curtain opens on gaily painted settings, and the lyric intensity of men and women who dance, love, suffer and die, to the casual irony of the bleating rhythm of saxophones.
Here is a play crowded with entertainment value in the simplest sense of the word--a little of vaudeville in the scattered character of its events, very much of musical comedy in its rich welding of sentiment and gaiety. I am not sure that "The Moon Is a Gong" is a great play. But there can be no question that the production given it last night by the Harvard Dramatic Club under the direction of Mr. Edward Massey is extraordinarily memorable and stirring. Mr. Massey has approached this difficult production frankly from the point of view of musical comedy. He has built up jazz, noise, excitement, into a simple and perfectly synchronized whole. The settings, done by Mr. Dos Passos himself, are brilliantly successful. As concerns the acting, there are many good performances, and a few extremely bad ones--but this is overshadowed by the imaginative power with which the director has conceived and executed his job. There are few, if any, directors in this country capable of handling such a task in such a way.
Art of Entertainment Unchanged
To speak of this treatment in terms of Modernism or Expressionism is considerably to confuse the issue. With so much rather frenzied chatter about Modernism, one gets the impression that a mythical younger generation is about to invade the drama with guns, saxophones, poetry and (God save the mark!) Expressionism. I herewith depone that this is emphatically not the case. It is not so very long ago that the first trained elephant stepped proudly into the first saw-dust ring, but the art of entertainment as practiced by Mr. Barnum (as well as by William Shakespeare and Florenz Ziegfeld) is a very ancient art indeed. Nor has it changed so greatly.
Entertainment on the stage (or for that matter in the aisles or in a public square or where you will) is fundamentally a story embroidered with movement, color and contrast. Judged by this standard (you can apply the same standard to "The Wild Duck" or "Ladies of the Evening") I am not sure that Mr. Dos Passos has truly succeeded. Nevertheless his story is essentially a corking good love story. The treatment sometimes slights the intensely, human and physical aspects of this story. But the lovers are very real people trying to make a hard reality out of the limp texture of their lives. They struggle toward this reality against a violent background of bitterly lively incident. Things happen! There is no pale aesthetic modernism in this attack. In fact, I know of no more vigorous satire on art and art thinking than the scene in a Greenwich Village backyard where poets, press agents, and actresses talk their way to success among cocktails and tea. This man and woman are not idly and stupidly rebellious, but they are part and parcel of the world in which they live, trying as any sane person must, to find common sense in the current confusion of ideas and the steel clatter of the machine age. They go out into the world at the very hour of the funeral of the girl's mother; after a few years of married life, the girl, freer and less muddle-headed than the man, realizes that she must fight her own battles alone. An exciting train wreck points and symbolizes their situation. The man finds himself standing alone beside the twisted steel of a shattered locomotive. He wanders the world and becomes a bum while the girl he loves makes her way and becomes a famous actress. They meet again. He is implicated in a crime in Union Square. He escapes to her apartment over the roof tops. And at the end the man and woman stand alone among stars, facing an unknown destiny to the waltz strains of a musical comedy finale.
Miss Small Excellent
But all that, you say, is a little like a movie. And so it might be, a movie in scarlet blue and green with a singing and dancing ensemble, if Mr. Dos Passos had dug more deeply into the surface of his material.
The difficulty faced by the actors entrusted with the two main parts are considerable. Miss Frances Small gives a finely poised performance. Her emotional moments seemed to me not so convincing as the more subtle and colder meets. But her playing throughout is unusually satisfying. Mr. Eduardo Sanchez, essentially a capable and vigorous actor, will not come off quite so well with an even more difficult task. His tendency is a trifle toward conscious poetry in the reading of the lines. Perhaps a simple reading would be more effective.
The twinkling legs of Miss Dorothy Dilley are a triumphant contribution. The pink body of a girl spinning in a spotlight this sets a keynote which perhaps more than any other single element expresses the life and pitch of a richly exciting production