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By the time New York's newspaper strike enters the realm of history, In the Counting House may be there, too.
Unlike the vulgar, insipid plays that have recently cashed in on Jewish themes and situations, the show that opened at the Biltmore last night honestly aims at drama. But in outlining the fiscal and marital vagaries of a garment manufacturer, Mr. Leslie Weiner doesn't quite reach it.
His central figure, Woody Hartman, gives Sydney Chaplin little to work with. On his 40th birthday Woody has misgivings about the value of his life and viability of his marriage. But how does he express the fact that he hates going through the middle-class motions? By second thoughts about his Great Neck home. The author uses this technique-characterization by telling reference--to the point of inanity.
Weiner's love vs. Great Neck conflict hints at social commentary, it hints at some real exploration of its characters, it hints at many dramatic statements but always backs off. The tension in Woody's life is finally between personal sacrifice and personal gratification; a divorce and an affair; a business coup and a business risk. By an unintended irony the play emphasizes the financial index of success. Presisely because Howard Da Silva (Woody's father) is the most vivid human being on stage, and because the success of The Business is vital to him, the audience finds itself rooting very hard for the commercial vindication of Miss Julie Lingerie, Inc.
In the Counting House has high aspirations and moments of strength, and Arthur Penn's direction, facile and clever in the best sense, gives it clarity from time to time. But the real faults are Mr. Weiner's. He has taken the not-too-interesting dilemma of a not-too-enlightened boss, and tried to impart a significance that just wasn't there.
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