Idler has whipped together for its spring offering a brace of the weirdest little one-actors you've ever seen. One of them starts and finishes before you know it. The other sprawls itself over an hour and twenty-five minutes. Both of the plays are of recent authorship. Neither comes very close to being drama.
First, shorter, and better of the two, Tennessee Williams' "Lord Byron's Love Letter," is an early and preparatory piece by the current here of Broadway. The play is little more than a curious scene in the lives of two curious female inhabitants of--yes, you guessed it--New Orleans.
These women, a young one and an old one, keep alive by displaying to visitors who look as if they would pay for the privilege a letter from George Gordon, Lord B. The play shows a crude Matron from Milwaukee and her setted husband enjoying, but not paying for, the privilege. The play ends on a flat and irrelevant imputation that the younger lady is none other than Lord Byron's granddaughter.
The trouble is that the play has only a few--moments intensive enough to show the decay of the two women, diffusing its too slight self otherwise in side issues like the drunkenness of the husband. Grace Tuttle gave a concentrated, touching performance as the younger woman, her half-hearted southern accent being only a small fault.
Christopher Fry's "A Phoenix Too Frequent" is about Greece, more or less. It is also about a woman whose husband has died and who wants to follow him to Hades. As she lies in his tomb, a young soldier wanders in. Love follows fast, and by the end of the show the Mrs. sacrifices her husband's body to get her new friend out of an embarrassing shortage.
Mixed with this slim, fable-like plot is an excruciating amalgam of bombast, sex, and stale army jokes. The bombast concerns various theories of life and love. The soldier's jokes got like this: "Now that the war is love we're making pottery." The sex involves the two principals, who remove layers of their clothes at intervals and kiss each other at length. One young observer was heard to remark: "Two people are enjoying themselves, anyway."
The three participants in the second piece were all good. John Mannick was resonant as the slider, Elcanor Milliard good-looking and as convincing as possible as Dynamene, and Patricia Troxell very amusing in the part of the alternately keening and complaining servant.
Despite the two productions' shortcomings, the evening was an interesting one. Both plays were unusual in approach, and the Williams was enlightening as evidence of a writer's development. Last night's performance was a benefit for Camp Vence in France: the offering continues through Saturday evening.