After writing enthusiastic reviews of those two excellent productions, "Loyalties", and the "Chauve-Souris", the Playgoer looked around for some unfortunate drama on which he might sharpen his teeth and whet his claws. With this malign purpose in mind. "The Cat and the Canary" was about the worst choice he could have made. But before going on, it must be thoroughly understood that household pets have nothing to do with this show: any animal lover who goes to see his favorites perform is certain to be surprised, although hardly disappointed.
The action starts with the reading of a will on the twentieth anniversary of the death of its maker. All of the former viving heirs are assembled in his former home, a most devilishly sombre, dreary place, whose atmosphere is far from brightened by the old housekeeper, a West Indian. The business of this character is to scare everyone as often as possible which is pretty often, judging by the shrieks of the female audience. As a creator of spooky, nerve racking tension she is quite effective, but as a West Indian servant she seems a bit overdrawn.
Anyhow, in these rather terrifying surroundings, the will is read, and nobody has the slightest luck except Miss Annabel West, to whom everything falls unless she chances to be of unsound mind. Apparently she isn't, but how she comes through the rest of the play with all her mental equipment intact is the greatest mystery of all.
As in the case of "The Bat", everyone who has seen "The Cat and the Canary" has to conspire to keep the cat in the bag, so the action must remain an impenetrable secret, so far as the Playgoer is concerned. But its effectiveness, judged by that reliable criterion, its reception by the audience, deserves no little admiration. By means of thoroughly adequate scenery and "props", and the services of the old West Indian, "Mammy" Pleasant, an extremely advantageous current of excitement and hysteria is set up, which needs only the slamming of a door or the tolling of a bell to produce instant uproar,--not only on the stage but off. Occasional periods of silence on the stage are filled with the giggles and titters of the more emotional members of the audience, often swallowing up some significant mysterious noise, and it is not hard to believe that the actors catch the panicky spirit that they themselves have produced.
And as to the actors; it must be admitted that after the atmosphere is charged it would be hard to spoil the effect. All one has to do is to be frightened at the right places. Nevertheless, Miriam Doyle is pleasing as the courageous and attractive young heiress; and Walter Regan, who has a fairly difficult part as the wavering, somewhat ridiculous schoolboy lover of Miss West, and the official humorist, is one of the outstanding players. As Cousin Sue, who feels "in duty bound" to tell everything she knows in a rather disagreeable fashion, Florence Huntington is so convincing that one hesitates to praise her; her part seems too natural to be acting. The other characters are taken well enough; one feels no particular lack nor any unusual talent.
In one respect, however, "The Cat and the Canary" fails as did its fellow, "The Bat". Both plays cry aloud for a solution from beginning to final denouement, but neither supplies a real clue from which the true secret can be deduced. In fact every effort is made to mislead the earnest spectator to a wrong conclusion. But this is an unimportant detail. Anyone who likes to spend an uneasy, riotous evening, and to observe the instability of his neighbor's equilibrium will do well to visit "The Cat and the Canary".