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Jean Anouilh is an imaginative playwright, which makes him almost unique in the world of commercially successful contemporary theater. His Time Remembered creates a light, slightly mad, slightly ethereal atmosphere which, if rather insubstantial in itself, sets up countless brilliant little touches--situations, moments, gestures, speeches. The play is not in itself as successful as The Lark, or as Thieve's Carnival or Toreadors, both of which it mildly resembles in tone. Yet the present production adds considerable creativity to the script, and makes the show as a whole very nearly live up to the high standards of interest expected of Anouilh.
The story at first seems to be a French Alice in Wonderland, but soon ties some reality to the originally puzzling circumstances. A young milliner finds herself on a Brittany estate where an ice cream man sell no ice cream, a cab driver keeps rabbits in his ivy-grown cab, and Helen Hayes, looking like a magnificent ninety-year-old Mad- woman of Chaillot, sweeps in and out of the reception room, ecstatically explaining nothing. It shortly becomes clear that the Duchess (Helen Hayes) has in various ways frozen time, for the sake of her melancholy nephew the prince (Richard Burton), by recreating the surroundings of his one brief love affair.
The milliner (Susan Strasberg) has been summoned by the Duchess in order to impersonate the Prince's dead beloved; in acting both herself and the dead ballerina, the milliner successfully wrenches the Prince out of his deep freeze. Finally, after the happy Duchess and her wonderfully inept friend Lord Hector shoot a symbol down from the wings--a bedraggled phoenix, representing the finally defeated spirit of the ballerina--the play ends. It is an aristocratic fable, an intellectual fairy tale.
Helen Hayes's brilliant performance fits into this spirit nearly perfectly, which is not really surprising, although playing an exaggeratedly gay, moderately mad French aristocrat might have seemed a bit beyond her great scope and skill. She triumphs, as usual. Her gestures are a catalogue of how to act; her bright eyes and posed postures handle comedy with a great flourish.
As her nephew, Richard Burton also gives an excellent performance, within a brooding role that provides no large chances for diversity. His speech is admirable, and he displays melancholy, boredom, and eventually honesty and a spark of life with great force.
Unfortunately, Susan Strasberg, the third star, seems a mere satellite. She is miscast, and downright dull, speaking in a disagreeable adolescent voice that fits Anne Frank perfectly, but adds little brightness to Anouilh. Fortunately, there are some extremely amusing supporting actors. Glenn Anders is ideal as the glorious Lord Hector, and Sig Arno serves his role as a timeless headwaiter with a skillful dash of farce.
The director, Albert Marre, deserves much credit for his gay coordination of the many buoyant actors and actions, as does Oliver Smith, the designer, for his airy, mobile, imaginatively congruous sets.
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