At the Brattic Hall Theatre
Donald Ogden Stewart has brought forth a new play which falls at the outset from paucity of drama inherent in its very choice of situation. Mr. Stewart intends well. It's too bad his original conception was such that the final result fails to catch the audience's imagination.
He meant to give the lie to the slick-formula-fiction illusion of the American way of life. But where he went wrong was in turning the formula upside-down and coming out with something that approaches reality about as closely as a Saturday Evening Post story and that penetrates the despair of the human condition to depths no greater than the heights of elation to which boy and girl are moved in S. E. P.'s happy ending.
That supreme American value of getting-ahead in a material way is under indictment by Mr. Stewart. The four characters who subscribe to this value are eminently neurotic--one even lapsing psychotic toward the close of each act. The other two characters escape this affliction, by one by having already attained success in the business world, and other by rejecting the whole rat-race as not worth the effort. It is this last fellow who is the disruptive influence. If not only he were not around, the other characters would not be so constantly aware that they are not, after all, living the good life they like to kid themselves into thinking they are living. "The Kidders"--the title is doubtless trying to suggest--are not only kidding among each other in their bantering way, but are kidding themselves with their constant show of light-hearted abandon.
The actors try hard to deal with the strained situation into which Mr. Stewart has thrust them, but they are even further burdened because the author has sought to redeem his efforts by larding the lines with metaphor. The idealist, for example, has "gotten off the merry-go-around" and has "stopped grabbing for the golden ring." By overcoming these difficulties in parts that only border on the convincing, Paul Langton, as the fellow no longer on the carousel, and Ted Newton, the successful businessman, deserve commendation. Also Jocelyn Brando plays well a scene of considerable emotion.
Harold Clurman, the director, as well as the actors, has tried his best to save the play. But such annoyances as one-time humorist Donald Ogden Stewart's injection of gagged-up lines into serious, sometimes tragic, situations and his resort to melodrama in the final act make his new play something of an annoying experience.