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That the Oliver Morosco Prize Play, "Mamma's Affair," by Rachel Barton Butler of Radcliffe and the 47 Workship, is being received with enthusiasm is shown by the fact that on its first presentation in Washington all first-night records of attendance were broken, and at present at the Little Theatre in New York seats are selling six weeks in advance. This play was first produced in the 47 Workshop in January of last year; then, when it was accepted by Oliver Morosco and produced by him the first presentation was given in Providence, where it stayed for a week before going to Washington, and thence to New York. While being recast for the footlights of Broadway almost no change was made in the play as originally produced in the Workshop.
Following are two of the comments by the New York Press after the premier performance:
Alexander Woolcott, in the New York Times.
Take "Le Malade Imaginaire" from the theatre of Moliere or any other play on the wiles of the hypochondriac. Tap the vein of comedy that ran through "The Molluse' of blessed memory. Add a smattering from the lore of the psychoanalyst. Stir violently and you will have the deft, original and uncommonly entertaining piece which, under the clumsy and inept title of "Mamma's Affair," arrived last evening at the reopened Little Theatre.
This is the Harvard Prize Play, for which Mr. Morosco, rather than Mr. Craig, offered the prize this year, and the new comedy by one Rachel Barton Butler, is, by a considerable margin, the best product of English 47 yet sent from the cloistered halls of Cambridge to try its luck in the hurly burly of the commercial theatre. There is no more interesting comedy on view in New York today, and, if it were as well played as it deserves to be, there would be few so well worth going to see. As it is, you'd better see it. You might do a whole lot worse.
It required at least a surface knowledge of the Freudian explorations to write this play, and playgoers with a bit of that knowledge will have the time of their lives as it unfolds. It is true that the Freudian playgoer lies in wait for the slightest lurking excuse to descend into the sub-conscious--discovering clues and symptoms of which playwright, producer and players are blissfully unaware. He sees an inhibition at every turn, and with the slightest encouragement would talk about the Psycho-Anabasis of Xenophon. But "Mamma's Affair' really invites his special attention.
It is all about the Oedipus complex. Or what is it called when the ingrowing bond is between mother and daughter? The Medea complex? Well, no matter--for, after all, the common, unread run of us can relish the new piece at the Little Theatre and, as its somewhat uncomfortable story develops, will wriggle and chuckle with many a spasm of recognition.
The New York Tribune.
It is difficult to believe that a play so deft and fine, so certainly proportioned and timed, could be the work of a novice in the theatre. On the other hand, only one fresh to the theatre could bring to it the freedom from hack attitudes and phrases, the thinking in terms of life, the alertness to what is abroad in the world of ideas that this play possesses. Added whereto is an exceedingly fine wit and amazing charm.
It is difficult to give some idea of the pointed satire, the subtle suggestions of tragedy and comedy, the psychological agility of this comedy. To say it is brilliant and charming is not enough. It drives perilously close to tragedy at times, and it is only the immense assurance of Miss Butler's command which, satisfied with the suggestions of it, brings it back unfailingly to the path of comedy.
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