There is an old theatrical tradition to the effect that a bad dress rehearsal means a good opening performance. If this adage proves correct, the Radcliffe idler's presentation of "Guest in the House" tonight at the Agassiz. Theatre should be very, very good, for the dress rehearsal was very, very bad.
The play itself is a good one, as its long run on Broadway during an exacting theatrical season has proven. It is the story of a neurotic invalid with a vicious streak, who enters into a normal, happy household as a guest, and immediately proceeds to turn it into a veritable hell on earth. It has a dramatic surprise ending. This is all good. To find the faults in the Radcliffe production, one must dig down into the acting performances.
To begin with, the presentation as a whole lacks cohesion. Each individual actor and actress recites his own individual lines and does not appear to give a damn about whether his part blends in with the rest of the action or not. The sole exception to this is the part of the motherly, worldly-wise old Aunt who sees through the sugary innocence of the neurotic. This role is portrayed by Helen Eatin. The rest of the lead roles vary only as to the extent in which they are under or overplayed.
The amiable married couple, the Proctors, who invite the invalid to their home come under the first category. Both parts are weak, particularly when it comes to registering emotion. This is especially true of Mrs. Proctor, portrayed by City Lewis. She loses and regains her husband in a rather blase manner, as if she knows that everything is going to turn out all right eventually and does not feel in worth worrying about too much. Their big reuniting clinch is quite casual.
The over-acting division is amply filled by one little girl, Lee Proctor, portrayed by Patsy Malany, and one sexy model, portrayed by Pearl Pollock. The former whines too much, while the latter shouts too much and talks too fast.
The best part in the play, that of the All-American Five Letter Female, goes to Libby Devolder. She plays the part admirably in the beginning of the play, but when the time comes to throw away her mask and step into the open as the nasty little package of feminine vixenity that she really is, she fails dismally. She does not seem to be able to register the depth of emotion called for. In short, she makes the audience hate her while she is playing the vixen in ewe's clothing, and then does not live up to that hatred when she assumes her true role of the vixen.
Despite all these shortcomings, the play has possibilities. The smaller characters are all rather well played. The set is good and the director, Mrs. Lilian Arnold, is quite competent.
It may be that time is the answer to the problem, since rehearsals started as late as January 1, and many of the players have had to be replaced, but whether there is time enough between now and tonight at 7:30 o'clock is a moot question.