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A Significant Stage Straw

LUCKY SAM McCARVER, by Sidney Howard. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. 1926.

By Frederick DEW. Pingree

FOUR episodes in the rise of a New Yorker constitute this new and ingenious play--an experiment in dramatic biography. Sidney Howard like Eugene O'Neill ever concerns himself with exploiting unguessed possibilities of the drama, and his latest production, "Lucky Sam McCarver', rivals if not surpasses O'Neill's "The Great God Brown". As proteges of Professor Baker, both playwrights have done not a little to enhance his established reputation, and even the most casual acquaintance with their work reveals the fact that they are perpetuating the best traditions of the deceased 47 Workshop. Despite divergent individualities, they both depict life with that intangible quality which springs from seasoned reflection they both deal with the inherent essence of life rather than trivial social situations, and lastly they both consider the mode of expression as profoundly important and capable of variation as the components of humanity.

Biography in dramatic or fictional guise is in itself not a form hitherto unknown. Inevitably the reader thinks of Drink-water's "Abraham Lincoln" and Shaw's "Saint Joan", on one hand and Maurois' "Ariel: The Lfe of Shelley" and E. Barrington's "The Glorious Apollo" (Byron), on the other. Indeed, these reminders serve but to convince him more strongly that in the main classifications of artistic form there is nothing new under the sun. Yet Shaw and Drinkwater are not the innovators of dramatic biography and they have discovered but one of its types. Howard has evolved another. Unlike his English contemporaries, he has not etched the significant characteristics of well known demagogues, but created an etching by characterizing unremarked specimens of the genus Americana.

That "Lucky Sam McCarver" failed it when received it first presentation in New York' argues nothing for or against its dramatic value for three reasons. The play is a pioneer, and as such, it may have been unjustly tomahawk by obtuse or conventional critics. The play may have been badly staged, acted, lighted, costumed, or advertised; it may have been,--for one is almost as fatal as the other-too hastily produced or too long rehearsed. Lastly, the play may have suffered as a propitiation to the undiscerning public who can not accept an idea or a new technique without marring its first exponents.

Those who were not fortunate enough to view "Lucky Sam McCarver" while it lived, moved, breathed, and had its being can only determine its worth by reading--a test theoretically most satisfactory and at once most difficult, for a play is meant to be seen acted and not to be read. Obviously the experiment lacks certain dramatic elements, hitherto regarded as indispensable--plot, idea, and hero and heroine in the accepted sense of the words. Yet in just the same manner these alleged necessities are completely missing in John dos Passos' new novel, "Manhattan Transfer,' an innovation which has been critically as well as financially unusually successful. Indeed, the absence of these features constitute no grounds for objection, but rather for interest and speculation; and when one has adjusted his set of standards and expectations, he can not fail to admit that the play is artistically rounded, skillfully constructed, trenchantly brilliant, and thoroughly entertaining.

But "Lucky Sam McCarver" is no minutely tortuous study. On the contrary, it moves tersely, racily. It is as essentially dramatic as it is biographical. Sam McCarver, who rose from the gutter and is on the make, is no character for a Ph. D. thesis.

The scenes shift as rapidly as the facets of conversation. And Sam McCarver shifts in his ambition as fast as he wins successively loftier environments. The play is kaleidoscopic.

For those who intend to read the book, little more need be said. Certain books inevitably shape literary fashions and introduce new ones. From this point of view, "Lucky Sam McCarver" is especially significant. On the strength of his achievement, its author may well win another Pulitzer Prize while it is certain if there were a distinguished prize for the best dramatic preface of the year, its award would go to Mr. Howard without further deliberation

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