"Mr. Roberts" has enjoyed success in three forms: as a series of short stories in the Atlantic Monthly, as a bestselling novel, and for two years as a hit play in New York. The road company which brought the last to Boston Monday night has done nothing to break the string. This production, even without the superb acting of Henry Fonda and his Broadway confreres, is a fine show from the first gripe to the final curse.
An ugly rumor preceded the play here--to the effect that the happy flow of profanity in the script would be weeded out by local censors. Suffice it to say that this proved to be a considerable exaggeration. Seaman Insigna, who was a small, noisy Italian in the New York version, is a small, noisy Irishman in the Boston version. That's the one significant difference, and that seems only logical.
John Forsythe looks like Fonda, speaks with Fonda's flat drawl, and apparently lacks only experience to handle his part as well as Fonda. He underplays throughout, as he must to keep the popular Lieutenant from appearing mawkish; he carries the long, slow opening scenes with easy competence.
Ensign Pulver, his bunkmate from Princeton, is beautifully caricatured by Jackie Cooper, who has developed from his child star days to make the bumbling, lazy Pulver not only comic but sympathetic. Robert Burton plays the ship's doctor ("What are you giving them this week for double beri-beri?" "Aspirin, of course,") and Roberts' chief confidante capably.
The crew is wonderful. It has to be the backbone of the play, and this one, although physically unlike the original cast, is of the same high quality. There is also one pretty girl in the cast, and she has a birthmark. But you don't get to see it, and neither does Pulver.