The 1946-47 season in the theatre continues to develop as the most promising in the past eight or nine years, with almost every major American playwright being represented either with a new play or with a revival. The latest entrant into the field is Moss Hart, whose new play, "Christopher Blake," is now in the second of its three weeks at the Plymouth.
This is Hart's first play since the warmed-over USO show, "Winged Victory," which he turned out during the war. It is not a success. Within a certain limited scope Hart is almost incapable of writing a bad line; the plot crisis of "Christopher Blake" is both believable and original--in the sense that it has not been rendered meaningless by countless Hollywood pot-boilings; and the acting is remarkably good throughout the large cast. All of which makes the failure of the play particularly unfortunate, for what ails it cannot be remedied in the traditional method of the Boston try-out: by re-writing lines here, and patching and cutting out there. The ill is much more fundamental, concerned with the nature of the play itself.
Hart has written a play of divorce, the crisis of which centers around the decision of the child, Christopher Blake, as to whether he will choose to live with his mother or with his father. The scenes between the mother and the father, played by Martha Sleeper and Shepperd Strudwick, and between the boy and each of his parents are very effective. All three of the principals are excellent, particularly the boy, Richard Tyler, who may be remembered as the urchin who boxed with Ingrid Bergman in "The Bells of St. Mary's," and Hart has fashioned for them some very warm and very moving scenes. The last scene between the boy and his mother is perhaps the finest dramatic scene Hart has ever written.
But granting the excellence of these scenes, and the genuineness of the play's problem, the fact remains that either the problem could not be written into a three-act play or merely that Hart was incapable of doing so. Failing that, he has fallen back on the formula which made his "Lady in the Dark" such a success, the dream sequence. Thus with the aid of four (or is it five?) voyages into the tortured unconscious of Christopher Blake, Hart manages to pad out his play to the conventional length. Although they try mightily to be alternately charming and terrifying, the dreams are almost without exception extremely disagreeable. Hart's attempts to make the first pair of dreams child-like only ends in their being childish; his attempts at pathos in the last two culminate in florid over-acting.
The play, one-half of it, is fine and worth seeing. As for the other half, you might as well go to sleep along with Christopher Blake.