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The art of early twentieth century Americans, weaned on "Life With Father" and brought up on "Oklahoma!" and "I Remember Mama," at last continues its healthy growth in "Years Ago." For a season or two flop after flop made its development seem stunted. But the word finally went out that it isn't enough for a show's action to take place around the turn of the century; it's got to have a good script, too. And that's what Ruth Gordon's autobiographical play features for most of two acts, while the faults late in the play should be easy to iron out early in its run.
Set in Wollaston, Massachusetts, Miss Gordon's play tells, with rich local color, the story of her early passion to be an actress and of how she convinced her parents to let her have a fling at it. The play has humor, pathos, and great insight into both parents and daughter. In addition, it never degenerates into a period version of "Junior Miss" or "Kiss and Tell." This is no small accomplishment considering that the girl connives behind her father's back, has two adulating friends who are as interested in her problems as she is herself, and repulses all advances made by a red-head of a Harvard man who wants to take her to Class Day. These are standard ingredients for laughs. Miss Gordon uses them with honesty and gets real characters as well as guffaws.
In bringing these characters to life she has received brilliant help from director and cast. Frederic March and Florence Eldridge as the parents, and Patricia Kirkland as the daughter, act with taste and style all the way through. Miss Kirkland in particular, with a huge part calling for great range, squeals and cries and emotes her way through a remarkable performance.
But even the wizardry of these performances and Garson Kanin's direction fail to hide the anti-climactic second act curtain and the heads-I-go-to-New-York-to-be-an-actress-tails-I-don't nature of the last act. In view of the strength of most of the play, however, these weaknesses should not be difficult to repair, and by the time it gets to Broadway "Years Ago" should rate as top-notch theatre. Even as it is, there hasn't been anything better around town all year.
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