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Black-Eyed Susan

At the Plymouth

By Dennis E. Brown

With Black-Eyed Susan, author A. B. Shiffrin has attempted a play in the genre of The Moon Is Blue. Like F. Hugh Herbert's earlier effort, it is a drawing-room comedy with the shades pulled, featuring affairs which New York critics like to call "delightfully naughty." Unfortunately Black-Eyed Susan lacks the subtleties of its predecessor; the author is too consciously daring. Instead of appearing as a sage of the boudoir, he seems more like the little boy who has just pulled a successful raid on the jam pot.

The raid is successful simply because Mr. Shiffrin gets what he is after: a play which bases its humor almost entirely on the more ludicrous aspects of seduction. Late in the first act, Dr. Nicholas Marsh, a dying neurologist played by Vincent Price, is approached by Susan Gillespie, played by Dana Wynter. Black-Eyed Susan, as she is later called, has a strange request: in three years her husband has failed to present her with a child. She wants the doctor to act in loco parentis.

Much of the rest of the play is devoted to Miss Wynter's attempts to seduce the doctor. It is a chess-game second act which sees her carrying the attack, leading with her queenly figure, lounging on the couch, or gently caressing his knee while he tries, unsuccessfully to ward off her advances. Vincent Price, of course, is merely a pawn, and he realizes it. His defeat is inevitable. In a stunning move the pawn is rooked, and the two disappear into a bedroom for what should logically be the end of the game.

Black-Eyed Susan, however, does not consist entirely of such fascinating action, for the author has also studded his play with what seems to pass for witty dialogue. "Chinese food for breakfast?" queries a feminine colleague. "Well," replies the doctor with obvious glee, "the sun rises in the East." Though not exactly fine repartee, the cast manages such lines with surprising deftness. Indeed, it seems to relish them.

Because of this, Black-Eyed Susan receives a slick performance and manages to escape complete banality. Vincent Price, the only "name" star, does not stand much above his partners, most of whom are equally competent. On stage, his voice has a nasal quality, however, which mars the doctor's studied urbanity. The only actively offensive character is Susan's husband, played by Charles Boaz, whose simpering description of how to make bumpy love in a taxi-cab reaches some sort of low for the evening.

In all, Mr. Shiffrin has written a bad comedy. In giving the theatre one black eye, however, he has managed to keep the other sharply trained on the type of humor which seems to have the most commercial appeal.

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