The Deep Blue Sea, which brings Margaret Sullavan back to the American stage after a semi-retirement of eight years, is a tense, introspective drama of emotional conflict which looks from here to be as ill-fated as many of its predecessors from across the Atlantic. Its success in London may have been due in part to playright Terence Rattigan's gift for easy dialogue and his mastery of subtle character analysis, two qualities dear to the hearts of British theatre-goers. But deep down, beneath the morass of complex personal relationships, the play is without core. Rattigan guides his characters' development with delicate artistry, but when called upon, can never quite resolve the tangled ends of their psychoses into a unified, coherent theory.
Miss Sullavan's role is the focal point in the play's hierarchy of emotional maturity. She is caught between the Devil (her insistance upon viewing her unstable marital relations through the eyes of an insensitive society) and the Deep Blue Sea (or death, which she believes to be the only escape). The play opens with her attempted suicide and progresses through her relationships with her lover, her estranged husband, and an ex-doctor who ultimately proves to be her saviour. Though loosely constructed, the plot is not without tension and suspense. Mr. Rattigan's terrific seriousness accounts for much of this, for we are led to believe that far below the surface of interweaving love, lust, and indifference, there is profound moral to be found. There is a moral: "Take a sleeping pill and go in living," and perhaps it is profound, but after all the histrionics which occur on stage, it seems a bit anti-climatic.
The acting is in most cases excellent, and in the role of the cynical German doctor, played by Herbert Berghof, it is superb. Miss Sullavan is perhaps a shade too theatrical, maintaining the level of emotion at a pitch which must be shattered in the play's denouement. James Hanley's portrayal of the lover, steeped in social mores and incapable of matching his mistress' passion, alternates effectively between flippancy and noble resignment. Perhaps the one flaw in character analysis--whether through script or through Alan Webb's portrayal--is that of the jilted husband; one can never believe that he is as acquisitive and as heartless as Rattigan implies.