You will be understandably inclined to refuse the opportunity to spend a couple of hours tonight in a quonsett hut in England, among khakied men, listening to khakied talk. You don't want that "Carmen" is nicer. But such an opportunity is being offered nightly here at the Wilbur Theater, and the purpose of this review is to tell you not to miss it.
"Command Decision," last year's Broadway hit by William Wister Hames, is the story of an sir general in England during the war, who is forced to decide whether the end will justify the means. The end is the shortening of the war in Europe by the immediate destruction of three German jet factories; the means are certain and exorbitant casualtics among his own men and the ruin of his own carer.
A problem such as this was surely met many times during the war by the various commanding officers in every branch of the service, and the problem of Mr. Haines' general is, in itself, though compelling, not sufficient reason to make this a recommended play. The real merit of the script lies in the addition of several 'complications' to the basic plot, and ach of these, though rather contrived, is self-indicting. The main targets of Mr. Haines' ire are: politics in the Army, ineptitude in the higher echelons, lack of co-operation between Army and Navy, and the pressure put on the services by an irresponsible press and petty congressmen. Mr. Haines sets his targets up, but he does not knock them down. It is not altogether his task. When the last curtain falls, they are still standing on the stage as they are still standing in the Army; intact, secure, withstanding all thrusts.
It is usually worthless trying to interpret an audience's reactions and using that interpretation as a criterion by which to judge the play. But last night, when roars of laughter greeted each stupid blunder made by the generals and the visiting congressmen, it leaves some doubt as to whether Mr. Haines has succeeded in making his point. Stupidity is laughable in chimney-sweeps and char-women, but it becomes something else when found among men with the whip in their hands.
A word must be said about the acting and the direction, because both are excellent. The large cast has obviously been chosen with great care, for each actor seems really to be a GI, easily identifiable even to regional distinctions. Paul Kelly, as the general with the decision to make, and Jay Fassett '16, as the general more interested in another cluster than in ending the war, are both good. And James Whitmore, as a sergeant and master at the delicate art of insulting officers without any personal danger, just about walks off with the show. The direction of John O'Shaughnessy, in spite (and because) of what you've read above is really the best thing in the play. It was a very difficult job and he has done it very well.
Though admittedly the lures of "Carmen" are greater, you will like "Command Decision" because it is an interesting, frequently funny, topical play, well done.