The bustling activity of the newly vivified little theatre, movement has passed through the "Phenomenon" stage into a rapidly crystallizing and tremendously promising phase of theatrical endeavor. The variously talented groups who for the past few summers have been turning New England barns into lime-lit slices of Broadway and the Village are now moving into serious winter activity in the cities. On the rising crest of this wave the Associated Actors Theatre has moved into the Peabody Playhouse to offer Boston a three week run of hitherto little known plays.
The opening production is "Gallery Gods", an adaptation by Henrietta Malkiel and John Houseman of a play by Richard Duschinsky. Several seasons ago the work was presented by Joseph Schildkraut in Brooklyn and then withdrawn for revision. It tells the story of two young thespians, man and wife, whose failure to secure parts has driven them to the margin of starvation. Seaching for a fresh face, a producer is taken with a photograph of the wife and offers her the lead in his forthcoming production which is to star Friedrich Gurtler, a tremendous matinee idol who is also, as he himself delicately puts it, a swine. This means that he gets what he wants and at the moment he has an uncontrollable yen for the young wife. She loves her husband deeply but Gurtler, the cad, tells her candidly that it's to bed with him or starvation. Her husband doesn't put up a strong show of opposition so she keeps her job and makes a grand hit. This, of course, breaks up the happy marriage and sends the husband out into the night.
The players imbue the play with a tremendous amount of intensely realistic acting which is sincere and capable but not deeply moving. Perhaps it's the fault of the manuscript which with all its professed "realism" isn't quite convincing. After all it is not striking that young actors have trouble in getting started. It is bad that the theater has to be dominated by a star system which raises box office above art and it is reasonable to assume that wives who go abedding with their leading men may lose their husbands. This is all true and real but if it carries any particular message this corner did not get it. The play is capably constructed but if a drama is to be effectively serious and tragic it must have a vitality and a convincing sweep which "Gallery Gods" misses.
May Sarton, Robert de San Marzano, Norman Lloyd and Gilbert Ralston do well by the leading roles. The whole company is sincere, hard-working and it is very likely that with better material they will achieve more impressive stature.