No Time for Sergeants

At the Colonial

Some people have a knack for blurting out the wrong words at the wrong time. Will Stockdale, the hero of No Time for Sergeants, is a genius at this artless art. His naive, well-meant blunders form the best argument yet discovered against continuing the draft, or at least the best remedy for accepting it. The resulting comedy, which Ira Levin adapted from Mac Hyman's best-selling novel, shows how a Georgia farm boy can send the U.S. Air Force into a tailspin. Maurice Evans has produced this new play almost as a sequel to the Teahouse of the August Moon, and though it lacks the subtle charm of its predecessor, its homespun good-humor is undeniable. The jokes are earthy and the grammar bad, but no one expects sophistication. No Time for Sergeants is a boisterous satire, and a very funny one, too.

Its star, of course, is Will, played by Andy Griffith. His genial "howdy" to privates and generals alike, disarms even the Air Force, yet not before he has reduced it nearly to shambles. To begin with, Will's sergeant appreciates his desire to be helpful. He "promotes" him to PLO (permanent latrine orderly). This arrangement backfires, however, and the plot of the comedy becomes a plot against Will--to get him through the classification tests. Confusion reigns, and the Air Force totters. Even the Reserve Officers Training Corps receives its share of jests.

Needless to say, then, as a source of humor No Time for Sergeants is practically a goldmine. Military life is always a ripe target. But the show's dialogue needs tightening. It continually seems poured in around the catchy scenes and clever jokes as a filler, like cement. Funny situation are set up too obviously. The dialogue holds together only through the skill of the actors, who manage to prevent the humor from degenerating into slapstick.

By his carefree, shuffling manner, both as narrator to the audience and participant in the comedy, Andy Griffith focuses the play excellently. As his harried sergeant, Myron McCormick stiffens with rage and groans in despair at just the right moments. Yet he also includes a touch of pathos which gives the comedy depth. Roddy McDowall has a smaller role as Will's whining and utterly realistic buddy, but he manages it neatly. Lastly, Howard Freeman and Royal Beal create convincing characters out of the two red-faced generals, who stomp and fume and titter falsely before exploding.

Thirty-one more characters, however, parade across the stage at various times. It is a tribute to Morton Da Costa's directing skill that they maneuver themselves so well. The sets, too, are a triumph. Peter Larkin's designs take the audience inside an airplane in mid-air--a really remarkable feat. All in all, No Time for Sergeants will amuse anyone who will ever have contact with military life, i.e., practically everybody.