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Drink to Me Only

The Playgoer

By Julius Novick

Since drunk scenes in comedies have a way of being funny independently of their context, why not turn out a play that consists almost entirely of drunk scenes? Why not, in fact, write Drink To Me Only? Well, two jokers named Abram S. Ginnes and Ira Wallach have done it. When they finish rewriting, they might well have on their hands a piece of farce of cataclysmic jocularity.

As yet they still have a long way to go. Their first act is almost a total loss, and even later on there are messy soft spots in between the bursts of hilarity. They would do well to excise entirely the pretty, insipid secretary who, it turns out at the end, is going to marry the hero after all. And they ought to write the moral issue out of the plot, because they handle it very clumsily, and because it does not belong in their play anyway. (A very wise old critic has remarked that sleazy sentimentality and pseudo-morality are the two worst vices of the commercial theater.)

When the foregoing matters are attended to, there will be left a very serviceable plot gimmick, involving a playboy who has just shot his seventh wife "in the fleshy part of the thigh." His defense is that having drunk two bottles of Scotch whiskey in twelve hours, he was not aware of what he was doing. When the prosecution adduces medical testimony to the effect that anybody with two-fifths of a gallon tucked in would be incapable of doing anything, a lad just out of Harvard Law is selected to save the situation by ingesting fifty-odd jiggers of Scotch in twelve hours, and appearing on his feet in court the next day.

Mr. Ginnes and Mr. Wallach have little in the way of taste or style, but, providentially enough, they have got Tom Poston to play the bibulating barrister. The idea of watching an actor stumbling and mumbling for nearly two hours is not an intrinsically attractive one, but Mr. Poston bears up beautifully under his incredibly heavy load. His sober scenes are mediocre, but as soon as he is suitably fueled he takes off like a rocket. He delivers quick wisecracks and long monologues with conviction and beautiful timing, but nothing he says is funnier than his silent, abstracted attempt in the middle of a crowded courtroom to discover the whereabouts of his right knee.

The ringmaster for the three-ring circus that surrounds Mr. Poston is George Abbott, who seems to have been directing this sort of play since long before nearly anybody was born. In his old age Mr. Abbott has grown permissive towards arm-waving and other forms of over-acting, but nobody can deny that he keeps things fairly lively. Among his hired hands, Paul Hartman is disappointing as the septuxorial playboy, but a tubby gent named John McGiver, playing the foggiest of Mr. Poston's employers, takes up some of the slack by being funny both drunk and sober.

In their rather touching desire to make the customers happy, Mr. Abbott and the authors have found a niche in their operations for the well-known strip-teaser Sherry Britton. Though Miss Briton displays an agreeably athletic navel in some belly-dancing sequences, her presence in the cast is the final proof that the proprietors of this enterprise are not austerely high-minded. But a good low-minded farce has delights all its own, and Drink to Me Only may turn into a winner.

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