As he sat in his box in the left hand side of the theatre Thursday night, George Kaufman must have been puzzled as to what ailed his latest production. He and Moss Hart acquired an A-1 cast for their play; John Root's setting was flawless; the audience was willing, nay, anxious to be amused; and yet the play failed to click. "George Washington Slept Here" has none of the zip and sparkle of its predecessor, "The Man Who Came to Dinner," which opened here in Boston exactly 365 days before. Both are Kaufman-Hart comedies, but there unfortunately the resemblance ends--last year the two authors had a terrific hit, this year they have nothing more than a headache.
It is immensely difficult to pick out things to criticize or correct in this show. It lacks that in-definable something, pace, that something which Alfred Hitchcock can give to a movie and which Kaufman and Hart are usually capable of imparting to their brain children. In two weeks it may be entirely different; Mr. Kaufman's opening night notes may give him the clue to the necessary revision and by the time it nits Broadway it may be fast enough to please Winchell.
The plot has its genesis in Mr. Hart's experiences buying a farm house in Bucks County, Pa. This seems to have been such an amusing episode in the life of la famille Hart that Moss just couldn't wait to phone up his pal George, and to get to work on a new epic about the problems of New York cliff-dwellers who are suddenly transplanted to a farm house, vintage 1740. The trials and tribulations of the family include water-supply, insects in all shapes and sizes, equally troublesome relatives, and a summer theatre. "Mix all these things up," you can imagine Moss telling co-author George, "and we just can't miss. After all, look what we did with Woolcott last year."
Unfortunately, after the elements had been stirred and let simmer, the residuum didn't quite jell. Ernest Truex as the paterfamilias, Newton Fuller (who always wanted to live in the country) is well chosen, though his reiterated exhortation of "Just smell that air!" brings back memories of Ed Wynn's lisped plaint "I love the woods, I just love the woods." Jean Dixon as the wife is pleasant, but her change of heart just as the mortgage is going to be foreclosed--yes, there is a mortgage--seems slightly less than sincere. The various younger females, the daughter of the Fullers and her friends, were disappointingly undecorative save for one uncommunicative siren, Toni Sorel, whose brief appearances make Ann Sheridan's claim to the title of Oomph Queen patently absurd.
If the play is autobiographical, as is rumored, it is hoped that there is in the Hart family no prototype of Raymond, the Fuller's young nephew of about 12. This is indeed a poisonous character played to the "t" by Robert Readick and is probably the most amusing person in the play. To judge by the record, Messrs. Kaufman and Hart had better keep writing about their friends--of whom they have a copious number, for when they talk about themselves their pen loses its point.