Shakespeare, Vidal Comedies Highlight Drama Week
At Boston Summer Theatre through July 12
One of the most gifted of our young men of letters is Gore Vidal; and I do not say this merely to give a plug to a former schoolmate of mine. He has attained high esteem through his novels (The City and the Pillar), television dramas (Badge of Honor), and movie scripts (The Bachelor Party), to say nothing of short stories and literary criticisms.
Now he has successfully taken the legitimate stage into his domain with his comedy Visit to a Small Planet, which recently finished a run of almost 400 performances on Broadway. Among the many virtues of the play--as of most of Vidal's writing--is the freshness of its dialogue. Vidal avoids dull or hackneyed speech; his lines are original and unpredictable, and bespeak an uncommonly imaginative creative mind.
Visit satirizes in very funny fashion a good many things, such as man's penchant for war, the Pentagon bureaucracy, the self-inflated news commentator, free love, the power of mind over matter, and the flying saucer furore. The story centers around Kreton, a visitor from outer space who lives in the "suburbs of time," can read all the thoughts of men and animals, and considers our earth a mere toy to be played with.
Although this production is not up to the Broadway one, the play still stands up surprisingly well the second time through. Bert Lahr has a lot of fun with the part of Kreton, but he makes the visitor a bit too lovable; he lacks the polished hauteur that Cyril Ritchard brought to the role. Kenny Delmar (Fred Allen's Senator Claghorn, for those of you with long memories) could use more of Eddie Mayehoff's bluffness in the part of General Powers, a none-too-bright officer who has trouble with anything bigger than the Army's laundry problems.
Stanley Tackney does well as the news analyst who once said over the air, "Congratulations, President Dewey." Josephine Nichols, as his scatter-brained wife, would be fine if she didn't keep letting her voice rise to a shrill level. Kathern Shaw and Jeff Davis make an appealing pair of lovers, while Stratton Walling, John Lasell and an amazingly well-trained cat give capable support.
Director Pat Chandler and set designer Stuart Whyte did their best with a stage that is really not wide enough for the three acting areas needed for this play. But the production is still a good evening's entertainment.