The New Theatre Workshop has gone ahead with its fine work of presenting original play. Two one act plays the first by Judith Johnson of Radcliffe, and the other by George Robinson, a graduate student, show an appealing enthusiasm and, in Robinson's case, considerable talent.
Miss Johnson's The Ward for the Criminally Insane lacks the form and texture of drama. Rather than a play, it is a clever idea surrounded by dialogue that, expanded and given direction, might have become first rate writing. As it stands, it is a bit disappointing. Miss Johnson, instead of wrestling with such problems of construction as how to run some line of interest through her conversations, is content to let her sketch meander from its beginning to its end. Never seeming to head anywhere, it just wanders, then stops, building toward nothing in particular.
Starting with the idea that the "Criminally Insane" are those who lack inner poetry and sympathy with the personalities of their fellows, Miss Johnson assembles a group of self-absorbed "lunatics" in the drawing room of an asylum. She then points up their form of insanity by introducing a woman whose companion, "Harriet," is invisible. Since none of the other can see Harriet, showing that they lack insight, they remain in the asylum while the woman goes about her business. The audience is left to classify its own mental condition according to whether or not it can see Harriet.
In this rambling piece, the acting is generally good. Wendy Mackenzie Robertson shows a proper restrained confusion as Harriect's visible friend and Colgate Salsbury is more than competent as the institution's doctor. Only D. J. Sullivan seems at all at a loss for some sort of characterization, assuming stock tones and poses in lien of acting.
Robinson's play, The Knife, is rather novel since it symbolizes nothing. Instead it is of the "slice of life" school, showing an adolescent nearing maturity in the course of an afternoon. With incisive, purposive dialogue Robinson goes straight to his play's problems, that of showing the boy's growth, with insight and wit. It is remarkably good.
The acting in The Knife is almost as good as the excellent vehicle. Although Patricia Leatham is a trifle stiff as the mother, Hal Scott is really moving in the difficult role of the boy. Given the short frame work of a one-acter, Scott manages to portray a sensitive boy with the touches of voice and face that mark a subtle actor. It is to his credit, as well as Robinson's, that it is never necessary for the boy to make and obvious announcements his sensitivity. As the evil influence in the boy's life, John Fenn is a good, rollicking fellow. His style, however, is just a touch too broad, bordering on a caricature that could destroy the effect of his role.
Walter Lithgow is director of The Knife and has done an excellent job of interpreting the play. The stage business that is his province is expertly handled to further Hal Scott's portrayal. Richard Smithies has less luck with Ward, and is unable to work out some of the lapses in the script. Despite their few defects the plays are quite worth seeing, and today's house deserves to be full.