Verse plays written and acted by students proved Monday night to have a surprising drawing power; a large and sympathetic audience attended the first evening of one-act plays by the Poets' Theatre. Although none of the works presented was completely satisfying, they showed considerable promise, and the reception should encourage future productions.
Most of the scripts suffered from beginner's errors in stagecraft. Few of the performers were actually called upon to perform; their parts required them mainly to recite monologues in formal poses. Little of the writing had really been adapted to the requirements of the stage. Nevertheless, the Theatre can be a valuable laboratory for these writers to improve their dramatic technique: particularly, they must learn to write lines meaningful and effective to an audience that hears them only once.
The first play, by John Ashbery, showed typical defects. The lines occasionally gave hints of being good verse, but not of the sort whose meaning is apparent at one hearing. However, the monologues were delivered with enough sincerity to make even dubious listeners suspend judgment.
"Try! Try!" by Frank O'Hara, was labeled on the program a "noh play," and we were handed some notes on the Noh plays of Japan: "The audience once dressed for them as if for a religious service in elaborate ceremonial robes . . . The audience is supposed to know all the plays by heart." Having put the modestly dressed audience on the defensive, the play earned the most appreciative reception of the evening. Violet Lang drew laughs with a number of dryly satirical lines.
Richard Eberhart's contribution, "The Apparition," was the weakest of the four, though it came closest to being a play. Unfortunately, it tried to be two plays, one within the other, all within fifteen minutes. Except for an amusing performance by Kay Levy the acting was choppy and hampered by a pointless script, the last part of which consisted of quite a lot of words in no particular order. Lyon Phelps' "3 Words in No Time" was the most complex of the plays, but despite careful staging and impressive delivery by Thayer David and Jerry Kilty, it was not entirely coherent.
One event marred the evening for some. Thornton Wilder, after an appeal for funds, lectured the audience vehemently on its "bad performance" during the O'Hara play, at which it had laughed loudly (and which got an extra curtain call). I think Mr. Wilder misjudged both the play and the audience's response; if so, his action was regrettable.