• U.S.

The Theater: New Plays in Manhattan, Nov. 1, 1948

4 minute read

Life With Mother (based on Clarence Day’s stories by Howard Lindsay & Russel Grouse; produced by Oscar Serlin) is not only the sequel but just about the equal of Life With Father. Both have the same cheerful, superficial virtues; if Life With Mother seems more contrived, it also seems more lively; if it is naturally less fresh, familiarity has bred a certain affection. Mother carries on from about where Father ended; and Father carries on precisely as before.

For plot, about all Father had was Mother’s determination to get Father baptized. Mother turns on nothing more momentous—simply Mother’s determination to get a 22-year-overdue engagement ring; but it somehow seems much more cooked up. For Father had soured on engagement rings through being engaged before, and his old love plays a rather comic-strip role in the new play. Life With Mother also gains in interest rather than value through Cousin Cora’s marriage and Clarence Jr.’s short-lived engagement to the girl next door.

In the main, however, Life With Mother, like Life With Father, is the broadly painted picture of a man and a marriage, the chronicle of a household and record of a class. Here again a rambunctious blusterer of Manhattan’s horsecar era wages endless battle and suffers constant defeat, chiefly at the hands of a wife who flutters helplessly with cunning. Here again are growing boys and departing servants, the wall phones and other period touches, the breakfast tables and other permanent realities, of well-heeled bourgeois life.

These small recognitions certainly add as much to the play as Father’s chronic rampageousness; and Life With Mother gains too, on the whole, from its many evocations of Life With Father. The family jokes are really family jokes by now; Father’s “Oh Gaaad!” is emblematic as well as explosive. Howard Lindsay & Dorothy Stickney scarcely seem to be giving performances (though they are giving very good ones) ; Father and Mother have become too familiar to seem impersonated.

Actually, the man they might have seemed least familiar to would have been their own original chronicler, Clarence Day Jr. The Father that Clarence knew and drew was tougher to handle and harder to take.

The Leading Lady (by Ruth Gordon; produced by Victor Samrock & William Fields) was a turn-of-the-century fandango about theater people that Ruth Gordon, playwright, wrote for Ruth Gordon, actress. Trying mainly for glamor, it traded chiefly in hokum—and pretty tarnished hokum at that. Miss Gordon herself was so very much of a Heroine that she was not much of a help.

Miss Gordon played the wife of a celebrated, swinish, Svengali-ish actor who has trained her to be his servile leading lady. Despite his mistreatment of her as both wife and actress, she remains loyal to him. After his florid death, she remains loyal to his memory. He had prophesied that she could not act without him, and in duty bound she goes steadily downhill—till about four minutes before the final curtain.

The trouble with The Leading Lady was not that it preferred glamor to reality but that it never came close to either. It requires a little more than costumes, clichés and a liberal sprinkling of famous names to make a period and a profession seem lustrous; simply calling a bit-player “Maudie” does not make her Maude Adams. The Leading Lady, to be sure, had its moments—thanks largely to such accomplished character actors as Ethel Griffies and William J. Kelly—but there were not enough of them for the play to. run more than one week.

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