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Theatre: Supreme Test

2 minute read

For never was a story of more woe Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.

Katharine Cornell maintained, even while she was performing them, that her rich rôles in The Green Hat, The Barretts of Wimpole Street and Lucrece were only part of her apprenticeship as an actress. When she had thoroughly prepared her self, said she, she was going to stand the supreme dramatic test of Shakespeare’s Juliet. In Manhattan last week she presented herself in the tragedy that has brought more woe to more ambitious actresses than any other single play. To the satisfaction of critics and public alike, Katharine Cornell proved herself, once & for all, the First Lady of the U. S. Stage.

From the moment she appeared, long chestnut locks falling on a sweeping Renaissance gown designed by artful Jo Mielziner, Miss Cornell handled her part with definite authority. She seemed a little less awed by Shakespeare’s rich verse than such predecessors in the rôle as Jane Cowl and Eva Le Gallienne. Her technical resource was never strained as she ran the gamut of shy girlishness in the opening scenes, mischievous eroticism on the star lit balcony, near-delirium when about to take Friar Laurence’s potion. Newspaper reviewers sent up a praiseful paean to the adjectival accompaniment of: “Lovely! Exquisite! Extraordinary! Marvelous! Thrilling! Exciting! Radiant! True magnificence! Superlative!” Burns Mantle of the Daily News: “The potion scene, I venture, has never been as tellingly read as Miss Cornell gave it last night, simply, without affected hysteria, or hair-tearing.” Brooks Atkinson of the Times: “This is an occasion. All a reviewer can say is ‘Bravo!’ ” High praise, too, was due Miss Cornell’s excellent supporting company. Particularly good was Edith Evans as the Nurse. Miss Evans speaks lines which are usually expurgated with a wholesome bawdry which somehow manages to dodge the usual tiresome vulgarity of the part. Brian Aherne, in a curly red wig, is an ebullient Mercutio, gay as May in the Queen Mab speech, bitter as gall when he dies cursing “both your houses.” Capable but less distinguished as Romeo is Basil Rathbone, whose virtuosity appears to stop just this side of eloquence. His pausing, prosy delivery is perhaps better suited to modern evening dress than to 16th Century tights.

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