The Honeys

At the Plymouth

The Honeys is not based on the cartoons of Charles Addams-but it might as well be. The play concerns two sisters-in-law who have a perfectly marvelous time murdering their husbands. Its author revels in such lines as "He probably ate his wife" or "The poison will perforate his stomach like a cancelled check." And it does, in its best moments, achieve the same delightful morbidness that now characterizes the Addams people, just as it once distinguished the characters in Arsenic and Old Lace.

Let no one imagine, however, that playwright Roald Dahl is so unoriginal as to use arsenic for his murder weapon. Mary and Maggie Honey are far above such prosaity. When they dispatch their husbands it is by more subtle methods, like poisoning them with oysters or with the chopped-up whiskers of a tiger, or hitting them over the head with a frozen leg of lamb. This last method is particularly fortunate, for it subsequently allows the ladies-in a suitably festive spirit, and accompanied by two policemen-to cat the murder weapon.

Jessica Tandy, as the submissive and then rebellious wife of crusty Bennett Honey, seems somewhat less diabolical than she should be. Miss Tandy is just too charming. Her attractiveness works against her, asserting itself throughout the evening and deadening the emotional explosion that should occur when she suddenly walks out on her husband. But Frances Woodbury, who substituted for Dorothy Stickney last Saturday as the wife of Curtis Honey, is delightfully Addamsian. Behind everything she says-even the tune she whistles-lurks the desire to eliminate her crochety old husband and enjoy a subsequent life of freedom and wealth. The tune, of course, is the Merry Widow Waltz.

Hume Cronyn has a busy night. He plays the double role of gruff, vain Bennett Honey, who sprinkles false dandruff on his toupee, and his boorish brother Curtis, who decorates his living room with animal heads. (The living room, incidentally, is wonderfully bizarre: Ben Edwards' other setting is too.) Cronyn grumbles his way admirably through both parts, and manages to make the Honeys just similar enough to be twins but different enough to be two people.

One of the best things about an Addams cartoon is its abruptness. The Honeys suffers mainly because it is not abrupt enough; the macabre spirit wears off too early in the evening. The play's humor reaches its peak in the second act, when the freshly killed Bennett, his head covered with a lampshade, sways back and forth in the living room while the female Honeys entertain a guest. From this point on, the author's morbid inspiration slowly flickers out, and the humor of the last act consists largely of geographical jokes ("Sinning is in its infancy in Boston") and the standard Irish dialogue that is contributed by two standard Irish cops. Logically, the denouement could probably use a little more elaboration, but from the point of view of the humor it comes just in time.

These reservations about The Honeys are far from crucial, however. The average, black blooded American theatre-goer will probably love this play, and with a little re-writing it should become not only a Broadway success, but a permanent fixture in the summer theatre circuit.