In a striking example of what can be done when a playwright deliberately limits himself on a subject of great historical proportions, Emmet Lavery has fashioned a generally plausible, heartwarming play out of the devoted, half-century old relationship between Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes and his wife, Fanny. No attempt is made to satisfy those who would have preferred hearing the principles of this most eminent architect of modern American Constitutional thought, in what would necessarily be a garrulous three-act production.
Opening in December, 1902, when the Supreme Court Justice arrived in Washington to assume his duties on the bench during the Big Stick rule of the first Roosevelt, it concludes with the precedent-breaking visit of President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt to the ninety-two year old, retired jurist. During these years, the play winds through only an occasional and superficial treatment of the century's important political issues. Over all, the ever-present guiding hand of Fanny is seen to be the driving force in the formation of Holmes' ideas and opinions. In the emphasis of the degree of this influence, a weak spot may be perceived in the plot. It is difficult to believe, for example, that a casual remark by one even so close to him as his wife could be the match which lit the legal conflagration that was one of Holmes most famous court decisions.
Louis Calhern's superior acting, Sylvia Fields' handling of the role of Fanny, and the barbed witticisms cast in the direction of vulnerable Bostonians and the bright young men of Harvard--all contribute to an evening of good entertainment.
Once again, immeasurably greater will be the audience appreciation if the play is seen with the knowledge that it is much less a profound portrait of "The Magnificent Yankee" than, as one elderly lady was heard to exclaim ecstatically, of "Holmes, Sweet Holmes."