I Too Have Lived in Arcadia is a play of straightforward meaning smothered by form and language that is far too complex. The external "story" (using this world is vaguely analogous to speaking of the Bible's "plot") shows a man, representing the artist, or creator, fleeing from the temptation and challenge of fame. The artist goes in self-exile to a desolate "honest island" with a woman who is the spirit, within himself, of learning and self-improvement. But also within him is the spirit of a former mistress, fame, still calling him to creation. Using the vitality and comfort of fortune and power as her lures, she holds behind these overt blandishments the artist's recollection of his past creations and the joy they brought him. In his withdrawal from fame and creation is the basis of his discontent, for the force of learning is barren of inspiration for the artist, and he neither is ready for calm perfection, nor can he create such an atmosphere as Arcadia.
Now, despite the rather Marxian concept of perfection, containing for the imperfect artist the seeds of its own downfall, this play is not particularly startling or inflammatory. One must then ask if its general obscurity and murky symbolism are quite justified. Granting Arcadia its moments of brilliant imagery, and a really fine scene between the artist and his ex-mistress, the poetry is not, intrinsically, worth the effort of picking what is good from the shielding verbiage. Neither does the authoress, V. R. Lang, enjoy so glittering a reputation that one is compelled to find out just what she means. Another poet's cry for "more substance and less art" is in order, despite many moments and touches of merit.
With their complicated vehicle the actors do quite nobly, shunning the obvious for almost impressionistic interpretations. Bronia Sielewicz, reading the part of Arcadian Chloris, has a magnificent voice and a most engaging manner. She makes Chloris a good deal more than the vapidly pedantic cipher that might be fashioned by a less accomplished actress. In her opening scene with the well-intentioned artist, played by Peter Sourian, Miss Sielewicz is quite tender and understanding, giving the impression of being inspired, but not inspiring, Sourian matches this performance with, what seems at first (and may be, since it is consistent throughout), a generally plodding interpretation, without verve or vigor. In terms of the play this is precisely the wanted effect, and this same interpretation is perfect, meshing with the ex-mistress' calculating shrewdness, when the two finally meet. Phoebe, the symbol of fame's temptation, is admirably played by Sarah Braveman. Her Tallulah Bankhead reading of the part manages to suggest both the grossness and warmth of her character.
With Phoebe is a poodle, played by Royall Tyler, who speaks French translations of American jazz slang. What he symbolizes beyond the result of Damon's frantic creativeness, is a puzzle--and an example of Miss Lang's obtuseness. Nevertheless, Tyler senses the impressionistic mood of the evening and, in a small part, acts accordingly with fair success.
The director for Arcadia is Lyon Phelps, and if the meshing of the three main performances was his idea, he did an excellent job. Otherwise, pacing and blocking pretty well account for themselves, although neither is particularly fascinating.
As a curtain raiser, there is, for some reason or other, Alfred de Musset's A Door Must Be Open Or Shut, a one act play of trivial epigram and some humor, featuring the well-developed acting of Leslie Cass as a teasing and flirting Marquise. Joseph Mitchell plays a droll, glib Count with too much seriousness, and in too much of a hurry, leaving any timing up to the capable Miss Cass. The program notwithstanding, there was no indication that the play had a director, both Miss Cass and Mitchell fending--and fairly well--for themselves.
The scenery for both pieces is by Richard Kaplan. For Arcadia he showed imagination with a set of suggestive stick construction and stark blue-grey flats. The de Musset piece he tried to furnish with draperies and props that, supposed to be sumptuous, were merely shabby.
In all, it is an actors' bill at the Poets' Theatre. They do excellent bits in one piece that is too unexciting and another that is, perhaps, too ambitious.