Every Broadway season needs at least one show like Never Too Late. Probably no more than one, but one at any rate. For Never Too Late is one of your ungainly, amateurish, American homely-grown situation comedies built entirely out of comfortably familiar set-em-up-and-knock-em-down gag lines and plenty of old-fashioned good clean honest dirt.
And the dirt in this one is really pretty yeasty. Small-town middle-aged Massachusetts family of Life With Father dad, harried mom, newly-wed daughter, boobish son-in-law. Nothing too new there, admittedly, but then mom gets pregnant. And dad gets the gags. Mem: Aren't you excited? happy? [or words to that effect] Doesn't it remind you of a poem? Dad (de-spondently): I shot an arrow into the air...
The author's name is Summer Arthur Long, and he has never written a play before (which is not unbelievable when you think very hard about it), but he is a man of enough professional acumen to have signed up one of the best directors in the business, George Abbott, who for his part has had enough sense to sin up a perfect cast: Paul Ford (dad), Maureen O'Sullivan (mom), and Orson Bean (son-in-law). Do you follow me?
I don't know what Lloyd's going rates are, but Paul Ford ought to insure his stomach for about twice as much as Marlene has coming to her if her legs get scratched. Ford has the most eloquent pot in show business, and it'd help me unwind a whole lot quicker in the evenings if I knew that his abdomen was in good hands. I mean, this guy has a Method stomach. All he has to do is stand up and you know that he's playing to perfection a crabby, self-dramatizing, infinitely egotistical (and very funny) petty tyrant. His stomach has all the gloom of W. C. Fields, all the confidence of Magoo.
An then, of course, in Never Late the stomach has all the lines. Maureen O'Sullivan and Orson Bean are the co-stars--lest one forget--and no mean comics they; but their only function in this play is to feed the laughs to Ford. Ford knows what to do with them, all right. Aren't you pleased? he is asked. "Oh, I'm joyous; [pause] it's just I'm so miserable."
William and Jean Eckart created the single all-purpose set, a convincing and pleasantly large living room. And Florence Klotz is responsible for Miss O'Sullivan's handsome dresses. Should you see Never Too Late? Sure. But if you miss it this year, there'll be another one like it next year. And the year after.