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In the Gay Nineties, the Naughty Nineties, the Nineties of the Yellow Book, these things were done well, these clever plays without any raison d'etre except their devilish cleverness. But in the decade of grace 1920-30 we seem to lack the flair. So it is small wonder that a play like "The Circle", which the Repertory players are presenting this week, should prove too much for its author, Somerset Maugham.
If the poor man were able to exchange epigrams over his dinner table or even over his luncheon (Gor forbid that it should ever go so far as to disturb and tax his early morning breakfast mind), then the world might be richer by one drawing room comedy. But the days of the green carnation have passed and the circle has not yet returned upon itself. So, we find a play which has one mission in the world, to make its auditors turn and say, "Remember that, dear; we'll use it at the Bottomley's tomorrow night." And there are not ten lines which Mr. and Mrs. Playgoer can quote without being suspected of resurrecting Wilde.
In an age when the Orthodox Paradox is a forgotten conversational convention and one must talk radio or stocks to be understood there is still Romance, though it be a little tawdry and shopworn from the treatment it gets at the hands of the Hot-Snappy-True Story magazines. And when the audience thought that the Circle was going on the conversational rocks Maugham rushed forward with a pink scarf labelled Romance.
Do you find yourself sitting on the edge of the seat when the women who have left their happy homes for the Riveria and love come back and warn their daughters-in-law "not to make the same mistake I did, my dear." Do you admire a girl who, with a horrible example staring her in the face, can go off with a firm determination on the same chase? Does the sight of Romance battling with the forces of Society and The Right Thing, faltering, seeming to lose, and then winning after all, delight your soul? Go to the Circle. Lost in its labyrinths you will cry out, "But things like this don't happen." As indeed they don't.
It is not an easy play to present, but it must be a play which gives the Repertory company infinite pleasure after the banalities of Minick. What Minick lost, however, by enunciating a familiar problem in too bald and veracious a manner, the Circle loses by parading in a false and scaffolded plot a problem which has its roots in bigotry. The first act of the latter suffers immeasurably in consequence. From start to finish of the act there is talky-talk of the most stagey, witless sort, written to unfold the background of the play.
Under these handicaps peg in the role of the young woman securely, but none too satisfactorily, married played up and played the game. It was all very English, you know, what with "rippings" and talk of "funking it" interjected here and there, but the entire cast were its best Oxonian accent with never a quiver.
If spring comes slowly up this way and you find yourself wandering about murmuring "O, to be in England now that spring is here", go to the Repertory by all means. Let your romantic soul be frightened almost out of its ectoplasm for fear the girl win do "The Right Thing" instead of running away from her furniture collecting husband of 40. Hope against hope and in the end wander out into the night again and down Huntington Avenue murmuring "There is a God." You old softie.
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