"The Masque of Kings", Despite Promise of Players and Playwright, is a Wordy Disappointment
Not in years has there come to Boston a play that promised more than "The Masque of Kings". Its director, Philip Moeller; its designer, Lee Simonson; its stars, Henry Hull, Margo, Pauline Frederick, and Dudley Diggs; its author, Maxwell Anderson--these names augured well. It would be pleasant to say that these potentialities have been realized; pleasant but not true.
Sadly enough, it is Mr. Anderson who is at fault. Those who look upon him as the standard-bearer of poetic drama should be distressed, and justly so, by this, his latest work. Around the sordid scandal of Mayerling he has woven a dashingly domantic fliction, full of florid gestures, plots and counterplots, saved from melodramatic banality only by its insistence on the eternal antithesis between power and justice. The liberal Crown Prince Rudolph schemes to seize the throne from Franz-Joseph, his father, in order to relieve the oppressed people, but even as his coup d'etat succeeds he realizes that the maintenance of power can lead only to more bloodshed, greater oppression. Tormented by his inability to change the very nature of things, he turns for consolation to his mistress, the Baroness Vetsera, only to find that she too is tainted with the intrigue of the court which he despises, that she has been hired by the Emperor to spy on him. There is in this conflict between the ideal and the practical an inherent tragedy which nothing can destroy, and there is the brief moments in which this tragic sense makes itself felt through the wrapping of Mr. Anderson's verse which give value to "The Masque of Kings". But for the most part it lies smothered beneath a flood of words, words which for the most part are not very beautiful and mean very little. Mr. Anderson seems to have a fatal facility for blank verse, a mechanical dexterity which has here betrayed him. The tense hardness that his verse achieved at times in "Winterest" is missing; his lines are flabby and prosaic.
The acting is almost uniformly good. As the Emperor Franz-Joseph, Dudley Diggs is superb and quite overshadow Henry Hull, who does his best to give life to the part of Rudolph. Miss Frederick has little to do but does it well Margo is as beautiful as ever--and still has the irritating habit of delivering all her lines in one sobbingly petulent tone of voice. But all in all, it is a distinguished cast, and it really deserves something better from Mr. Anderson in the way of a play.