Boston liked This Woman Business. But then, Boston always has liked this woman business, so that its reception of the play imported from London for the Wilbur's stage is no great overturn of form. Ever since the days when Cotton Mather sent two wives to heaven with his Frendian nagging, Boston, whether she'd admit it or not, has been a matriarchy, up to the very beginning of the present Irish era; and now maybe it's Mother Machree who rules the roost.
Dorcas societies and Vincent clubs have conducted a petticoat autocracy here since time immemorial, and Boston's women have cajoled their hard-headed business minded spouses to take an interest in the arts. Now their bread has come back cake. This Woman Business is the cake. It may be baked too brown, it may even need its hair sugared. Perliaps it needs to be taken with a grain of salt as well; but Boston ate it with relish and cried 'More".
The arts and one Benn W. Levy, advertised as a young Oxford graduate nursing his first play which proved a great success in London and is being tried on Boston as an acid test, bring in the cake. The confectionery is a veritable plum pudding, filled with excerpts from the works of all authorities on women beginning with Adam. Shopenhauer, and H.L.M., Bernard Shaw and Havelock Ellis, Freud and Elinor Glyn contribute each his plum.
The more character the better in the cast of the new play. Miss Tobin plays the part of the young woman in distress who happens in on a misogynists house party, and she plays it as if she were All Women, or Beauty in Distress, or some other such all embracing symbol. And Genevieve Tobin is not much good at symbolism. She is too much herself. It may be true that any women try to be all things to all men, but it takes no more than a Genevieve to prove that some of them fail.
For much the same reason Henry Kendall, who plays the part of Heney, the young poet, fails to satisfy. He is too much All the Sad Young Men, and all that Mr. Kendall has any right to attempt is bondsalesmanship in three lessons. The extended paw and the unrelenting finger of the go-getter is his. His flair for comedy saves him at times, but after all nothing is so invaluable to a bond salesman as the ready joke.
So it falls upon the rest of the cast to be properly individualistic. They embrace types, but they stamp themselves with definite personalities, take upon themselves all the characteristics of their narrow fields and rise above them to give a very fair performance. There is a retired divorce court judge, a bachelor of eighty-one, at an age when foolishness is characteristic and wisdom remarkably forthcoming. There is the host, an anti-feminist who of course gets caught, and who ought really to have known better at his age. There is the bachelor, who was jilted thirty years ago, and the married man of fifty who was happy until he quarreled with his wife over a coffee bean. They all wrangle without feminine let or hindrance to show how bad undiluted masculinity can be until they are diverted from their petty selfishness and cajoled by Woman, nee Miss Tobin.
This is the framework. In some portions of the structure it threatens collapse at any moment. But the author pulls the building inspectors away from the building time and again to point out to them what a lovely little theme he has found and how nicely he has embroidered it. And he has. This Woman Business is amusing, almost as amusing as this woman business.
The notion of feminism is an admirable one for a playwright, and a best seller at the moment. The question of the hour is: how do you like your SEX? Some like, it hot, some like it cold. Philosophers scratch their heads over it, Menckens chortle jubilantly about it, newspaper reporters acknowledge their indebtedness to it, and all admit that as an issue Sex is a wow. Mr. Levy has considered it from every traditional angle. He has inserted after-dinner speeches about it staged fight talks about it, and worked up to one grand denunciation of Man by Woman. The woman wins, the man pays, misogynist or not. The playwright has stirred an audience of wistful females and bold intelligentsia fond of facing facts to the depths of their little minds about it. And he has not succeeded in proving anything conclusively. Nobody should have expected that he would. And yet, you know, it's quite certain that Sex is a great thing. There ought to be a play about it