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The similarity between "The Happy Time" and a play called "I Remember Mama" is apparent not long after the first rise of the curtain. Both plays deal with the minor trials and tribulations of a happy-type family in which the children are experiencing their first taste of life and love. Both plays have their proper quota of eccentric uncles, indulgent fathers, and strong-willed mothers. Both plays have been based on successful and partly-auto-biographical books. I should be surprised if both books have not been honored with a condensation in "The Reader's Digest." As "I Remember Mama" went straight to the hearts of a great many theater-goers, so probably will "The Happy Time," though I'm inclined to think the former is the better play of the genre, even if not so humorous.
Robert Fontaine's book, "The Happy Time," from which Samuel Taylor has constructed the present version for producers Richard Redgers and Oscar Hammerstein, was probably as episodic as are most such books of family reminiscences. Mr. Taylor has chosen the best of these episodes and welded them together in the play--but not without the joints showing. Consequently, there is really no plot in the usual sense, but rather a series of amusing incidences which happen to occur in the same room and to the same people.
If a play has no plot then it should have a theme. None was discernible in the flow of dialogues and gags that make up "The Happy Time."
Some of the dialogue is amusing. Especially amusing are the lines spoken by Kurt Kaszuar, as the drinking uncle, and Edgar Steldi as Grandpere. Both are splendid actors, particularly Mr. Kaszuar, who made the evening for me with his Oblomov-like characterization. The French actor, Clande Dauphin, plays Papa with warmth and wit.
Robert Lewis, a former Hollywood bit-player and director of a musical entitled "Brigadoon," has done another one of his disturbing jobs of directing. What keeps "The Happy Time" from becoming a second "I Remember Mama"--a worthy goal--are Mr. Lewis' determined efforts at diverting even the touching scenes in a farcial direction. This gets howls from the audience and I should hope yelps from the Messrs. Fontaine and Taylor, if they give a damn about their joint creation.
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