There will be few surprises for the theater-wise who are lucky enough to have tickets for the new play at the Plymouth. It is called "I Know My Love" and is an adaption from the French of Marcel Achard by S. N. Behrman. Mr. Behrman has been responsible for some of the more delightful and urbane comedies that have flitted across our stage in the past years and that he has not lost his touch was evident Monday night. That the stars of "I Know My Love"--Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne--have not lost their touch for making Mr. Behrman's lines (or anyone else's) seem like something much more wonderful and witty than they could possibly be, was also again evident.
The play opens on the Golden Wedding Anniversary celebration of Thomas and Emily Chanler in the drawing room of their Back Bay home. The gathering relatives give the impression that the Chanlers have been an exceedingly happy couple but that Thomas Chanler is something of a benevolent tyrant who at 70 still dictates the personal as well as business affairs of his large family. The time is then 1939, and for the remainder of the evening "I Know My Love" shuttles back and forth through the years of the Chanler's married life--1888, 1902, 1918, and 1920--to reveal that it has been a polite but continual war and that it is Emily Chanler who is the stronger and the victorious.
The last line of the above paragraph might seem to indicate that Mr. Behrman has some thesis or other hiding behind the skirts of his winking Muse, but such is not the case. The plot of "I Know My Love" offers about as much opportunity for character-study as an hour with the old family album. What dimension the Chanler family has is due mainly to the embellishments given it by the actors.
In fact, once the dazzle of the Lunt's presence has been removed, the whole play seems pretty muddled. There's a good supply of wit all right, but there are a couple of important characters who keep popping up during the play for the apparent purpose of showing that their lives have been ruined by Tom and Emily Chanler. Actually, the seeds of dissipation and destruction are within themselves, and the Chanlers, despite the accusations and confessions, are blameless.
There is even a sudden and tragic suicide during the course of the evening which provides a lively and well-acted interlude to the comedy. The victim is a widely romantic Goethe-reader whom, I fear, Mr. Behrman will never translate from the Gallic.
At any rate, when the Luunts are on stage this reviewer would prefer to abandon the critical approach. It's superfluous to say much more than that the Lunts are back. I know My love, too.