There has been quite a conglomeration of talent at the Colonial for the past two weeks. Robert Anderson, author of Tea and Sympathy, has written a play called Silent Night, Lonely Night, in which two accomplished professionals, Henry Fonda and Barbara Bel Geddes, star. Peter Glenville has turned his considerable talents toward directing this production, and Jo Mielziner and Theoni V. Aldredge handle lighting and costuming.
Yet the result of this impressive concentration of ability is an unmitigated stinker. If Silent Night ever gets to Broadway, as it seems likely to do, it should be one of the biggest bombs ever to explode on the great White Way.
The play is deceptively advertised as the story of two lonely strangers who meet in a New England town on Christmas Eve. Well, Katherine, acted by Miss Bel Geddes, is lonely, but she has a husband in London. And John, played by Fonda, has a wife in the local sanitarium.
As John and Katherine engage in their desultory first act conversation, however, he poses as a widower who has slept around, but "never with anyone I could care for." The two tell each other tales of woe at great and tedious length, finally retiring for the night on separate couches in Katherine's hotel room.
As he staggers away after Act One, the perceptive theatregoer notices that the next scene is "Later that night," and takes heart. However, at 4 in the morning, John feels compelled to tell the truth about himself, while the audience suffers, before he and Katherine succumb to the inevitable.
Anderson's thesis in the end, as in Tea and Sympathy, is that in sleeping together there is strength. The two part in the morning with renewed hope.
Miss Bel Geddes and Fonda turn in fairly wooden performances, but there is not much they can do with a script that requires them to mouth such gems as, "God, you're sweet" The minor parts are not badly done, but this is essentially a two-person play. And that includes the audience.